But I’ve been feeling like shit and I’d like to sing it out to the world. Just warning you.
My body is at war with itself. It could be seen that way. 20 years ago doctors said that I have an autoimmune illness called rheumatoid arthritis, they said my immune system is attacking the synovial fluid in my joints. What that’s felt like to me and to many others with RA – it’s different in each case – is having a case of the flu that won’t go away. Sometimes it feels not as bad, like those last days when the worst of the flu is over and you just feel tired and weak and like not doing much. Sometimes it’s more acute. The last few months have felt acute. I’m bloody sick of it.
Let me tell you all about it. (I warned you.) I just want to say how hard it is. I'm not supposed to say that. I'm supposed to be strong. Cheerful. Positive. But of course it’s hard. I’m writing this not just for me but for all those dealing with pain that you can’t see. There are so many people walking around with chronic illness or depression or anxiety or the depths of loneliness, despair, poverty. Some with all of these things at once and more. But this is about me, me, me, mostly. I want to tell *my* story.
Because I don’t want to feel like I’m choking. And when I go through a particularly low and long phase of illness, and I’ve been “coping well,” and not talking about it much to anyone, and doing my best to eat the right things, and think the right things, and take my walks and do my yoga and meditation and spend time in nature and do my cardio and I *still* feel horrible… so horrible that I have to stop doing even those “right” things, things that feel nourishing even, and I worry I won’t be able to continue doing my dishes and grocery shopping, what if I become helpless…
… and then I run into somebody and I look good and I smile at them, maybe laugh, maybe say something uplifting, because that does come naturally to me and I do feel often cheered when I have a nice connection with someone briefly…
… and then I go home to the piles of dishes and laundry and the unmade bed and the meal that I need to make and the forms I need to fill out so that I can continue to get the financial support that I need…. I can start to feel choked.
No one has their hand on my throat or over my mouth. But when I don’t acknowledge my own frustration and difficulties, when I don’t take a compassionate stance in my own situation, that’s when I’m choking myself. That’s being at war with myself. Sometimes I see my illness as an aspect of me – sorrow and fear and anger that I never acknowledged, never allowed a voice.
For myself and for all those walking around with lots on their plates that nobody can see – and maybe that’s all of us, I don’t know – I tell this story. I want to celebrate my own strength through this experience, my own resilience and commitment and willingness and open heart. I want to celebrate yours, too.
I have happier stories. I have times when I feel physically not too bad, and periods where I feel creative and inspired, and even have glimpses of pure joy. But I’m starting to learn that those stories aren’t better stories. I don’t really want to pretend anymore (to myself or anyone else) that I’m happy when I’m not. Or that life is easy when isn’t.
Besides, I’m starting to see that there’s something quite big and beautiful that contains both the sad and the happy stories. Beyond pleasure and pain, there is something beyond imagining, and I think it’s very, very Good.
Thank you so much for listening to my story! Wishing you well with yours.
Three days later: I'm very grateful for many things Catholicism gave me, by the way. Would never want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. And also, I wanted to share that I do have a lot of support. The fear of helplessness is something we all have deep down, but we can all manage our lives, in general, in Truth, can't we? I think there's no one who can't make it through, even if it means asking for help sometimes. Or just "giving up" for a while. Giving up the struggle. The battle. Otherwise known as surrender.