As you may have guessed from my previous post, I’ve been feeling pretty down about things lately. In some ways this is a huge leap forward for me, as I have spent a lot of my life trying to avoid this kind of feeling. I haven’t wanted to become a victim of my life’s circumstances, choosing instead to find a positive spin for most things. And I’ve brushed aside comments from others along the lines of, “I don’t know how you deal with all of this,” because I’ve chosen to ignore the fact that my life is far from normal in many ways. But as helpful as this has all been in helping me to keep going through thick and thin, it hasn’t been very healthy.
Because my life isn’t normal. I suffer from multiple chronic illnesses that deeply impact my life, and that of my family. The constant fatigue, migraines, nausea, joint instability, and muscle spasms mean that I struggle with some of the most basic activities, such as taking a shower or preparing a meal. I can go days without doing either of these things, relying on my husband (who is also chronically ill) to bring me food and drink, and help me survive whilst stuck in bed. And on my worst days even lying in bed feels too taxing, as my heart races and my head spins.
Sometimes I know the cause of my most recent flare of symptoms, like a sudden change in temperature or catching yet another virus (having a young child makes this inevitable!) But at other times I have no idea what has caused me to go from functioning reasonably well to totally incapacitated, and I struggle with this aspect of my ill health the most. After all, how can I possibly hope to ease my symptoms and reduce the likelihood of another flare if I don’t know what the cause is?
This lack of control is deeply disturbing, and as a result I have clung desperately to the hope that one day (hopefully soon) I’ll gain a better insight into my health issues and figure out a way to get my old life back. But more and more I am realising that wishing for my “old life” is neither productive nor wise. Sure, it would be wonderful to no longer feel sick on a daily basis and be able to do more with my family and friends. And financially we’d be much better off if I could return to work and get out of the cruel benefits system that treats those of us who are ill as worthless (on a side note, it has now been over a year since my PIP assessment and I’m still waiting for a date for my tribunal hearing). But the point is I’m beginning to realise that I’m wishing for the wrong things.
Instead of hoping to somehow miraculously recover from the worst of my symptoms, I need to be working on accepting where I am right now. Instead of focusing on what I can’t do, I need to look at what I can do. For instance, I’m currently creating a website for our church and, due to a combination of school holidays and this most recent flare of symptoms, progress has been very slow. My anxiety over this has increased the more time that has elapsed, as I feel like I’m letting people down. Yet multiple times this week people have reminded me that I’m doing something nobody else in the church can do, and even if it takes me several months to complete it will still be a very valuable contribution.
On a rational level, I can see how flawed my thinking is. I’m valuing myself on what I can give and not on who I am, because who I am right now feels like a complete and utter failure. But instead of feeling angry at the cards I’ve been dealt, I feel angry at myself for not handling things better. Instead of acknowledging the grief related to the loss of my health and the dreams I had for my life, I’m punishing myself for not making better choices. And by refusing to accept this as my new normal, I’m denying myself the chance to truly grieve.
But I want to be able to face the reality of my situation and begin to feel all the emotions that come with that. I want to readjust my measure of self-worth so that I can celebrate the small victories (like making it out of the house) without comparing them to things other people do. I want to love myself enough to know that it’s okay to be angry about all I’ve lost, without having to justify that anger and pain. Which is why I have chosen to rebrand the blog to reflect this, giving me the space to come and share my thoughts, feelings, and experiences as I begin to explore living life in the slow lane.
Because that’s where I’m at right now, in the slow lane. Everything I do takes much more time and effort than it used to. I’m no longer planning what I’ll do next week, month, or year, and I’m certainly not able to plan out a future for myself. All the media messages about doing and being more seem irrelevant to me (and make me angry, if I’m completely honest with myself), because I’m having to learn how to do and be less. And my biggest dream right now is to feel well enough on a day-to-day basis to simply potter around the house and garden, do a bit of crafting, and enjoy a bit of company from family and friends.
Life is suddenly all about the simple pleasures, and letting go of the big dreams that are no longer possible. It’s a huge change for me, and one which requires a lot of mental effort in facing the inner demons that scream “this isn’t enough” and “you don’t deserve this”. I’ve got to learn how to grieve for the losses and redefine my self-worth as a sick person. And I’ve got to accept that there truly is no quick fix for this, it’s a journey that I cannot rush. This is life in the slow lane.