There is one component of this illness and autoimmune diseases in general which exacerbates the whole experience. The invisibility factor. You can’t see it. Many times when it shows its ugly head, no one is around to bear witness. People see us when we’re out and about and well, or faking it. I’ve lost count of the number of times I hear “But you don’t look sick!” People have a notion of what sick looks like, and this doesn’t fit the bill. One day you’re normal and the next day your plagued with something worse than a flu, or a hangover, but you didn’t do any drinking. It’s just such an enigma on so many levels, besides keeping up appearances, that it’s no surprise people just plain forget you’re sick. And it’s understandable. Because honestly, you forget too.
To this day I find myself committing to things as though I am normal, as though I have boundless energy, as though I don’t spend days in bed sometimes for no real reason at all. My circumstances aren’t normal. And some days I have to remind myself by the hour of my limits. Many times I fail to recognize them and I pay the price. So it’s no surprise that the people we love, the people we’re closest to-friends, lovers, family- they’ll forget too. And it’s easy to see why, but it will make you defensive. You’ll tell yourself they just don’t get it and they’ll never understand! And you’re right, they don’t. It’s impossible to know unless you’ve got it yourself. But don’t let that separate and isolate you more. You’ve got enough boundaries. When someone doesn’t believe you, when someone criticizes you, judges you, or doesn’t give the sympathy you’re looking for, let it go. Meet their disbelief with love and understanding. Because the truth is, if you weren’t sick with this, would you understand it? I know it’d be hard for me. I was young when I became ill but I remember distinctly things coming easy to me. Being a good gymnast. Getting good grades. Good family and friends. A 9-year-old with everything! I had no real reason for pause. I often consider what my life would be like had I not gotten sick and in general it’s with the notion that I’d be a better person living a better life. I really wonder about that now. Being sick and at the mercy of others help and kindness, I’ve learned remarkable lessons in humility and compassion, and those are just scratching the surface. I can’t say who I’d be without illness. But like my mom said once “Who knows? Maybe we if we hadn’t gotten sick we’d just be two capable assholes.”
The point is, when I still my mind and consider all the parts of this, I can understand the doubt, the skepticism, the misunderstanding from others. This is not a well understood disease, even for us sick ones. (But I know that one day it will be. I know that.) I remember once last year, I woke up with a pounding migraine. I was in one of my awful cycles. The first dose of medicine didn’t work so I took two, among my other cocktail of meds. I got out of bed around 1:30, hazy, tired, and the hint of my migraine still masquerading around my head. My boyfriend at the time saw me and said “You’re up! Hey, do you want to go shoot guns today?” At that moment I thought of 647 other things I would rather do than shoot a gun. The mere thought of shooting a gun made my headache perk up like what? huh? guns? Here I come!!! Even the suggestion of that activity made me mad. I felt really misunderstood and alone and thinking what I so often think: if they could only feel what I am feeling, they would understand. And it’s true. I think if most people felt the symptoms of CFS even for ten minutes, they’d have such a better grasp of what we are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. But that’s not possible. So it is up to us to communicate with love to those who don’t know. What we’re dealing with is basically invisible, and getting defensive and trying to prove it will exhaust us even more.
Besides my mom, who is also sick with this, I think about the one person who has been by my side throughout all of this, and has required the least amount of explaining. The answer is Monty. I realize that sounds juvenile. Oh Mary, you crazy dog lady..maybe you should talk to some PEOPLE. And truthfully I probably should. But I think about the number of beds Monty has slept at the foot of. Patiently he waits until I get up. Some days it’s only a minute..we don’t play and he doesn’t seem to mind. He follows me into the bathroom, he follows me out. When I go back to bed, he does to. And this is a very energetic and active dog. He could go all day, literally. But it truly feels like he picks up on sick days. When I wake up in the morning, he always takes some deep breaths really close to my face. It’s like he can tell by smell whether I’m going to get up or not. Sometimes he sniffs and hops out of bed ready to go. Other times he sniffs and goes back to bed. It really is like he knows.
The thing is, Monty doesn’t understand all the weird components to the illness. He doesn’t know what chronic fatigue syndrome is. He doesn’t understand why some days we play and other days we don’t leave the bed. Sometimes for a few days at a time. But he doesn’t even require an explanation or a defense, because what he is exemplifying so beautifully is living in the present. When it’s time to play, we play hard. When it’s time to sleep, we sleep like it’s nobody’s business. Whatever he does, he does fully. He shows up wholly to every moment. And it’s a truly impressive thing to witness. One of my favorite things is to watch Monty when he gets up in the morning. I open the door for him and he walks outside, stops, and sniffs the air for about 15 seconds. It’s like he’s taking in everything from the night and everything that the day will bring. I like watching it because it’s reflective, and we live such busy, fast lives, we constantly neglect reflection. I think it’s fair to say that it’s required for a happy life. We have to stop sometimes. We have to take things in. We have to feel our feelings. (Smell the roses, if you will.)And we don’t need to say it all on Facebook. Some things we should hold inside near our heart. Or whisper it to someone we love.
I am reading a book called Everyday Grace by Marianne Williamson which is incredibly poignant and really well-written. I find myself underlining entire pages. It’s always been a goal of mine to have a book club but of course I’ve never gotten it together and am bad at keeping commitments. So for now the blog will be it. And I invite all of you to read and share your thoughts on these books. I have about twenty more pages and will have a review/summary/dialogue next time. But if you’re looking for a book as a companion..this is a good one. It’s been seeing me through sleepless nights and reading it when I wake up in the morning gives me a happy way to begin the day. One of my favorite lines near the beginning is “We don’t need to push life so much as we need to experience it more elegantly, to be motivated more by inspiration than by ambition.” I like that idea. When I’m not in bed I let my instincts and inspiration guide me…even it’s just sitting on the porch swing and looking at the flowers, which I do a lot. Monty makes me throw a ball and swims laps in the pool. See?
Anyway, I am working on living a reflective life. I try to take in every moment truly, and feel it genuinely. Even if the moment is sad or fearful. I know that not feeling things through leads to trouble later on. I’ve been there before. For now, I feel happy. The sun is out and the porch swing is calling.
Health, Happiness, Smelling the Roses