Fall is truly here; and I’m glad. I love the weather changing, the leaves turning. I can even embrace all the rain and the short nights. I enjoy the countdowns to Thanksgiving and Christmas. On my more reflective days, I think about a year ending and another year starting.
I think about how 2017 has been a year of tremendous growth, and yet a year where I’ve seen my own grief erupt and almost overtake me. It’s been a year of confusion, of decisions I had to make too soon, and continuing to learn that my health fluctuating is my new normal.
I’m back in therapy working with a medical trauma specialist and last session she asked what I was taking away from this session. My response was, “I can see all the hard work I’ve already put in, and I see that I still have the drive to put in more work and heal. I want to heal so badly.”
You see, I’m learning to realize the effects of my illness in new ways. With all of the mold reactions I had this summer, both from my home and my workplace, I suffered some brain damage. Since it was prolonged enough, new neural networks formed in my brain while I was living in fight-or-flight mode for several months this summer.
I lived in different homes, bought air filters, quit my job, moved, started a business. My body is still tired–but not just fatigue-tired. My brain is tired, and I still have days where I don’t remember words or routines or how to get somewhere. I notice that after I spend 5 hours lesson planning on the weekend, my brain is completely wiped out. And I just hope on Monday that I’m ready to go, and have enough energy to get me through the day.
The new neural networks that formed were challenging all my beliefs-ones that I have challenged often in this health journey:
- Do I have what it takes? How do I find the strength it takes maybe to wake up and not remember much about the day before?
- Will people still be around?
- Do I believe that I’m worth it? Can I find even more grit to trust that every healing step is worth it because I’m worth it?
- Is joy attainable?
- If I have to quit my job, where do I go next?
- Can my pain be transformed into a life that I think is beautiful and fulfilling?
Some days I feel pretty good. I like my work, I feel confident, and joyful. Other days it’s hard to get out of bed, and I get through work, crash and hope I have energy to get out of bed the next day. Both are me. Both are true.
The hardest negative belief to observe, notice where I feel the tension in my body, and to breath my way through it is, “You are alone in this.”
Here’s the thing. Intellectually I know that I’m not. I have friends who struggle with chronic illness. I have taken meals to hospitals, and made allergy friendly Christmas cookies. We have talked about doctors not believing us, and the struggle to be seen and heard.
And yet, in those moments where it feels like my brain is firing in all directions, my body feels alone. My brain and body are fighting with each other.
Part of chronic illness is realizing along the journey, ways I have over-compensated because of being sick. So when I was physically fatigued, there were many years, where my mind was the strong suit. I overcompensated intellectually, because while I had to lie in bed for many daylight hours each day, I could still think.
The hard part currently is some days I can’t think. My brain isn’t always my strong suit anymore. I have to do everything I can to stop the inflammation from forming in my brain, but I also have to accept what’s happening.
And both/and is messy. There are tears out of nowhere and things that take 3 hours longer and cancelled plans and small moments where I smile at the sunrise and feel like I’m an 85 year old who’s just happy to be alive.
My relationships slowly shift. I have to say no to things I used to say yes to. I stop yoga for a time and start therapy. I learn to listen to my body before my mind (because the mind can only put language to what the body knows anyway).
This both/and world is unpredictable. It’s both wonderful and scary. It’s freeing and frightening. I see both the ugly and beautiful in myself. It’s a place of kindness towards myself and my limitations and celebrating my strong, persevering stance in the world.
Even writing this post has been emotional, because yesterday I couldn’t do this. But today I can. And for that I am glad. Yet the gladness does not wipe away the sadness of yesterday. They co-exist and always will.
The more I heal, the more I deeply know that trauma and transformation must live side by side. There’s really no other way.
My illness has taught me more about humanity than anything else has. It’s taught me about paradox, about this both/and world. That’s it’s okay to be in progress. I’ve learned about structures and powers that do not listen to the weak and about my own anger at injustice the the doubling power of trauma when you stay in the state of victimhood too long. I’m learning to see myself as a walking contradiction, along with everyone else.