I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a new member of my local FibroHaven support group. Like so many who are learning to come to terms with their diagnosis, she is struggling with her current state of being. Repeatedly throughout our conversation she stated “I can’t accept… (fill in the life changing aspect of chronic illness here).” Sitting before me was a former athlete and high-level executive who had the rewarding life she worked hard to create stripped away when she crashed with chronic illness. Everything she had once identified herself by is gone, and what is left is a semblance she does not like or accept. Sound familiar?
How often have we struggled with our new reality?
How often have we grown weary and frustrated with trying to decide who we are and how we now matter?
How often have we wondered if it will ever get better?
For many years I ignored and hid my struggles. My symptoms were moderate enough for me to do so, and the only person who really knew my reality was my husband. But then my crash came and the days of pretending were over. I was faced with having to accept a version of myself that I thought was weaker, useless, less than. It took me a long time (and it is something I continuously work on) to determine that I still matter – that I can still have a purpose. I may never have the freedom again that comes with perfect health, but that does not mean I cannot have a meaningful and inspiring life. My mind still reflects back to the “healthy” me, and there are days I long to be her, but I have found a sense of value and purpose in the chronically ill me. I am whole, despite all that is missing. And truthfully, I like the new me more than I ever did the active and successful (and high strung and stressed out) former me.
Now how do I share my personal epiphany and encourage my new member without sounding preachy or all-knowing? Because if you read my blog regularly, you know I do not have all the answers. I am a work in progress, and I do a lot of my work in a very public way by sharing it here.
My message to my new member was this: Until you learn to let go of who you were, and accept who you currently are, you will not be able to move forward. You will be stuck trying to get back to a “you” your body is no longer capable of being. By continually looking back, you are fostering frustration and anger rather than acceptance and possibility. Examine who you are now, come to terms with it, and then make a plan to move forward.
Accepting where you currently are is not the same as accepting you will always be in this state. It is simply the first step in readying yourself to move forward. You need to be aware and honest with yourself so you can focus on doing the things that are within your ability that will help you move forward. Let go of what you used to be able to do, and work within your current capabilities. And it is work. But you can improve. You can get better. But only by letting go, and working to move forward.
We all have interests and desires and passions. Some we have had to let go and can be no more to us than comforting memories of the past. But others are still attainable and aid us in moving forward. For me, it is my writing. Some days my brain and body will not cooperate so I don’t even try. There are days when it is too miserable to sit at my computer, but my brain is active and swirling with great writing ideas. Now if I were totally together and on top of things, I would make myself comfortable on those days and use an audio recorder to capture the words running through my brain. But do I? No – not yet. I am a work in progress.
But here is the thing, by accepting where I am, I have opened the door and stepped out onto the path towards improvement and growth. I do not know exactly where I am going, I just know I refuse to stay still. Each day I carve out a new piece of my path. Somedays I make great progress, others I just kick some dirt around and examine the scenery. But the one thing I will never do on my path is just lay down and let the weeds grow over me. I like myself way too much to do that, and I am too excited to see where my road is leading.