I love it when you read something and it articulates so perfectly what you are thinking, feeling. Rellacafa wrote this the other day –for me, this was one of those posts:
Caf wrote about how living with a diagnosis of almost endless pain has required her to shift her thinking, in order to survive, enjoy life, not succumb to despair about her prognosis, and look forward to her future. She writes about resisting the trap of imagining and living out every nightmare future scenario in her head, and trying to stay present in an un-ideal moment, whilst simultaneously keeping hope and faith in future possibilities. It’s a battle that many people who live with chronic illness, disabilities, and mental illness know all too well. I am one of them. Most of the time, I fight and win. Not always. But with discipline, practice, and the encouragement of wise friends and acquaintances, I am getting better at it.
Whenever I read what Caf writes about her condition, I really empathise. I don’t have CRPS, as she does. But for the two years before the post-surgery paralysis that rendered me wheelchair bound, I “lived” (sleepwalked through life, rather) with a similar diagnosis. Previously, I have mentioned in posts how a diagnosis at 13 effectively altered the course of my life. In late 2003, however, I was diagnosed with another condition, after a frightening incident that forced me to move back to Melbourne: I woke up one night in excruciating pain, unable to move my legs. After 12-hours in an emergency room, loaded up with a cocktail of painkillers, my legs started moving again, and I flew back home to see my Neurosurgeon. An MRI revealed my new reality. After many years of subtle deterioration and ever-present but desperately repressed fear about it, being told that my condition would indeed worsen, due to a second complication, and that my only hope was (once again) high-risk and unpredictable surgery, propelled me into a deep depression.
Or, rather, deeper, depression. I had lived with bouts of immobilising depression since my early-teens. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the support or understanding at the time to get help. Of course, I knew what depression was, but I never made the connection that this was what I had. Baffled by my episodes, I was deeply ashamed of my “weakness”, and tried my best to hide it from everyone in my life. Which necessitated a certain level of emotional distance (if someone gets too close, they might actually see you, after all). Even before I ever experienced being dumped because of my illness, my unhappiness, I was ashamed of it. So my method of “coping” at that point was DENIAL and avoidance. I hid myself under a fake persona – I pretended to be normal, attempted (unconvincingly, I think) to fake what a happy young person might look like, to please the people in my life at the time (all of whom I no longer see or speak to. A necessary part of my rehabilitation has been severing toxic ties).
Living a lie was, of course, tiring, and only added to my psychological distress and isolation. Moreover, my crippling bouts of depression affected my day-to-day functioning, so in the absence of knowledge about what was really going on, I probably gave the impression of being cold, aloof, and probably incompetent. My second and related method of not facing reality – getting absolutely out-of-my-head, escapism – was equally self-destructive. And, frankly, never even fun. Just a way to numb myself, and check out of a reality I did not wish to live. A breakdown of some kind, at some point, seemed inevitable.
You’ve heard the saying “live your life without regret”. But, truth be told, I would give anything to go back and hit the undo button on so much of my early life. To stop 17 year-old me, about to cripple and stunt herself by suffering through life-sapping relationships with people who had neither the character, sensitivity or love to be with her condition… because she thought it was preferable to being alone. I’d force her to get help. Tell her that she had a choice. Beg her to be brave enough to face her life, overcome her demons, find her strength & health, on her own. Tell her that she could – and needed to – do it on her own, for herself and everyone she loved and who loved her. And not waste so many years of her youth with people who mirrored her lack of self-love, and treated her accordingly.
Alas, that is not possible.
All we have – all we ever have – is today. Today…and future possibilities.
So, like Caf, I am keeping faith in those possibilities, and working to create better possibilities for myself, and my family. I am learning to accept my life as it is: the good (and there’s plenty of it :-)) and the bad. I am learning to accept that my own thinking will always be my biggest vulnerability, but that with spiritual & intellectual discipline, time, and commitment to a balanced and creative life – of taking care of myself and looking outward, helping others – I can turn that vulnerability into a strength. I am continuing to practice seeing and giving thanks for everything in my universe today that gives me joy and hope, and learning to habitually focus on those things.
It’s lovely when one piece of writing can remind you of where you’ve been, and how far you’ve come. And remind you of the beauty and gift of the yet to be written future.
Long way to go, yet. But I’m still thankful, and faithful.
(Alright, that’s enough self reflection for this month. Aforementioned political posts coming up next.)