It’s been one of those weeks.
One of those weeks when all I have wanted to do is shut myself up in my room and lose myself in books, movies, and God willing, some good sleep. It is my (and I am sure most of our) default position to “retreat” and isolate when I am feeling bad. And it is a desire I have given in to many times throughout my illness.
But I have noticed something.
I have noticed that by staying present and showing up for my life and my responsibilities, I am frequently rewarded with beautiful distractions from the symptoms that would otherwise consume me.
This has been an incredibly high pain week for me. In the past my pain would have been the reason for not moving, but I am in yoga school now, and I cannot make the decision to isolate myself without making the decision to miss the instruction I find so deeply rewarding.
So Tuesday morning I dragged my stiff, aching body to an 8AM yoga class. For ninety minutes I moved, stretched, and warmed my body from the inside out, and while still very much present, my pain became more tolerable.
But then the class work began, and for three hours we sat discussing the philosophy of yoga. Several times throughout the day, as my body got stiffer and stiffer, I told myself “Just go home.” But I stayed. I stayed because I knew my misery would not change if I were home alone with it, and I very much wanted to be present for the lessons of the day. So I stayed.
We ended the day with another 90 minute yoga session, and while still experiencing pain, I was better than I had been in the morning – and much better than if I had stayed home all day focusing on my pain.
Wednesday evening we had a support group meeting. I started our local group because I understand the need for community – the need to connect with others who understand how you are feeling. But I was miserable, and did not want to go. Yet at 6:30 I found myself there, surrounded by other members having an equally bad day (week, month). We ate and talked and had a really great time – the very best reward for making the effort and commitment to show up.
Thursday was much the same as Tuesday – yoga class all day. In my mind Wednesday evening I was preparing the email I was going to send to my instructor, explaining why I was not in class Thursday morning, and yet Thursday morning came, and there I found myself – stretching and moving with my fellow classmates.
After our morning practice, we sat in a circle and did what my teacher calls “checking in.” Each student takes a minute to share where they are and how they are feeling about their practice. I sat and listened as student after student shared what drives them and motivates them in their practice – what inspires them to keep showing up. Again, I was deeply humbled by the universal nature of suffering.
From divorce and custody issues, to the death of a parent, to abuse and addiction, to just generally being lost about the purpose of life – there was a lot of pain being worked out and worked through in that room. After everyone had shared we sat silently, absorbing the beauty of the moment, and then my teacher asked, “How many of you feel better just by being here today?” Every hand in the room went up.
On FibroHaven’s Facebook page I wrote this: There is nothing I can do alone that isn’t infinitely improved with the support of community. I founded FibroHaven on this belief: Community is everything. I directly attribute my growth and healing to the strength I gain by surrounding myself and connecting with those in the communities I have chosen to be a part of. Most people in my yoga community do not know I live with fibromyalgia. It is not important that they do know. I have my support group for that. What is important is that I have found (or created) communities that nourish and sustain me, and most importantly communities that inspire me to keep showing up.
What motivates and nourishes you?
What do you love? Where do you find community? It doesn’t have to be through yoga. And some people even shy away from support groups. But each of us has something that we love and that inspires us. Is it reading and discussing books? Check out your library for a local book club. Is it knitting? What a great way to spend some time, knitting and sharing patterns and design ideas with like-minded people. Do you love your church? Maybe there is a committee you can volunteer for. Or if you are interested in volunteer work, find a cause you are passionate about and volunteer for them.
There are days when yes, it is best to honor your body and rest. But I think we have all experienced the days when somehow we managed to show up to a scheduled event, and were rewarded for doing so with laughter and a lighter heart. You walk into a room and see a familiar smile, and your face feels lighter. You hear a familiar laugh and your heart warms. We need community, even if only for a much needed and welcomed distraction from the reality of living with chronic illness.
Today is Friday, and my pain is better. Showing up this week did not make me worse or increase my pain. Showing up this week nourished me, and encouraged me to keep showing up. That is what community does.