The truth is, I haven’t been healthy for years. Tabitha asked me one day, “When’s the last time you felt truly well?” I wasn’t sure. Maybe in 2014? No, I think that was already a painful time. I think it was that spring I went to a professional conference in Chicago, and much of the time that I wasn’t actively presenting my research, I was in my hotel room, ordering room service and burning myself.
So maybe in 2013? I think I was okay at least some of the time then.
It’s more complicated than that, of course. I have had some good periods in the past five years, certainly–especially when traveling. More recently, I did quite well for about three weeks in a row back in August, and for about two weeks around Christmas and New Years, I felt really good, healthy. But I just can’t seem to sustain it. Even if my mood is more stable, I’m often exhausted, unable to sleep, having bizarre medication withdrawal symptoms, or just sick. It’s definitely worse the last two years or so. I don’t feel I’ve ever fully recovered my energy after my pelvic organ surgery, almost 23 months ago now.
Of course I have come a long way; I don’t want to deny the progress I’ve made. I haven’t harmed myself in 10 months. I am a big advocate of self-compassion–and not just theoretically. I actually practice it. Plus, I meditate. I practice yoga, if I feel up to it. I eat healthier.
It’s just that none of this has fixed things. The truth is, I can’t know from week to week or even day to day what I’ll be up to doing. I’m struggling to do the freelance work I’ve contracted to do, even though it’s not full time. I have to cancel things more often than I want to.
Last week, I started taking clonzepam again, and even though I know it’s not a sustainable solution over the long haul, it’s given me some sleep, finally, after six or seven weeks of pretty severe insomnia. Wonderful! I was looking forward to this week, lunch with a former colleague, a walk with a friend, little things, but big to me.
Instead, I’m sick again. My tentative self-diagnosis is salmonella, from some chicken I ate on Monday (a guess–it wasn’t actually pink but I can’t think of what else might have caused this). Ever since then, I’ve had relentless diarrhea (icky, I know, sorry). Some of the time I don’t feel like eating, and I do a little better. But then I get hungry and eat a little white rice or a saltine cracker. A little later, I’m spending hours running back and forth between my bed and the bathroom. I’ve lost five pounds in three days. My abdomen is increasingly hot and achy. And today, day three with very little to eat, I am very weak.
So I cancelled my check-in with Tabitha on Tuesday–no conversation about the clonazepam. I cancelled my Wednesday therapy session with E, even though we had important stuff to follow up on from Monday’s session. I cancelled the lunch with Rob and the walk with Maria and the yoga class. I haven’t worked on either of my contracts. In short, my life has been entirely interrupted yet again.
Yes, I know that this particular illness is a fluke, and it will pass. If it is from salmonella, then I’ll be sick for four to seven days (I hope four). If it’s some other infection, it will eventually go away. But the thing is, it’s been one thing after another for me for years now. I can’t count on a stable mood. I can’t count on feeling healthy. I can’t count on having enough energy to get out of bed, frankly.
Earlier this week, this was frustrating the hell out of me. I kept looking for a reason. Maybe I’m not strict enough about my healthy diet. Maybe I should be exercising harder, to build up strength. Maybe I am not demanding enough of myself, I’m not disciplined enough, I’m giving in too easily, I’m lazy.
And then I remembered the lesson that I keep having to learn, over and over: there is peace in accepting what is. Resisting reality just increases the suffering.
What if I think about it this way, instead: For whatever combination of reasons, my physical and mental health are not what I would wish them to be. I don’t have the energy to do everything I would like to do. I don’t have the energy I used to have. This might get better after a while. Or it might stay like this for the rest of my life. Right now, I can’t know that, and even with a therapist and a psychiatric nurse and a nutritionist and semi-regular massages and part-time work, I can’t control it.
But I can accept it. I can say: this is my life right now, my very human life.
Being human means many things, and one part of being human is to not be well and strong all the time. This is my time to experience that aspect of being human. It is an opportunity to be open and to cultivate my empathy for others who are not well or not strong.
On the one hand, it makes me a little sad to accept this. It’s not the condition I would choose, of course. But neither would millions of other people choose the difficulties they have.
At the same time, it’s also a bit of a relief to accept it. I can stop with the searching for “reasons” (which were all versions of blaming myself anyway). Instead, I can raise new questions for myself: with what energy and space I do have in my life, how do I want to care for myself, and how do I want to serve others? If I find ways to do those two things, then I’ll be okay, even if I’m not well, even if I’m not strong.