I’m sitting in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, something that’s become increasingly a part of my regular than I want to admit. Most days I really feel I’m on a Shero’s travel and I’m thankful to be alive, regardless of the many health challenges that have dogged me for the last eight decades.
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Most days I go about the physician visits, hospital admissions, evaluations, blood draws, and I.V. I do, like brushing my teeth or taking a shower. Just a part of life. But as I sit here this morning, waiting for my name to be called, I’m feeling a burden heavy on my heart. I pick through the numerous adjectives, attempting to lay claim to the one that matches what I’m feeling. And then I understand what it is.
Grief for the life I used to have before the diagnosis that changed everything. I wish to lay my armor down and sink in the sorrow. I wish to cry. But of course I do not. And not because you will find a room full of people (many coping with their own significant health challenges), but since I seldom give myself permission to be exposed. Especially around my illness. I soldier on and tell myself I could have it so much worse, or that I’ll be letting others down, or that it is self-pitying to permit the negative feelings room to breathe.
These feelings are further complicated by the messages I received as a kid. The tape that plays for me I only receive attention and love when I’m hurt or sick. It’s not true, of course, but it was definitely true for a kid, and during my life I’ve let that internalized belief impact my ability to see myself as whole and healthy. There’s been a push-pull connection with this little girl who got attention the only way she could and the girl who understands I’m worth a lot more than that. And if I’m honest, there’s a residual shame that surfaces when I recall those times I hunted out negativity, looked for love through the lens of illness.
I worked hard since I moved into midlife to rid myself of the worn out tape. Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 41 (after over a year of intense training), cut back on my beloved Mike and Ike’s (and all sugar – much more challenging than climbing a hill ), started eating organic produce, appreciated protein-rich shakes and probiotics. I was 45 before the picture I carried of my inner self ultimately felt congruent with that of my outer self. I thought I’d outrun my past, but life certainly loves irony, and in the summit of my’wellbeing’ I became severely ill. Being sick brings up all types of vulnerabilities for me. In our present culture so much credence is placed on positive thinking and the Law of Attraction and, naturally, as a coach I’ve heard my fair share of renowned experts espousing the belief that we contribute to our life what we really, truly want.
I’ve even been known to accommodate those mantras a time or two (or three). But couched within these well-meaning belief systems is a more insidious message: That if bad things happen, somehow we have asked for it. And that is too close to blaming the individual for what are often experiences well beyond our control. The truth is people get ill, bad things happen, and no amount of positive thinking or willing prosperity will change that. What we do have control over is how we choose to cope with what life tosses in our lap. Sitting in the waiting room as I work through the grief that struck me like a tsunami, I open up to the understanding that being ill also means I’m human.
I’m not getting from being in this imperfect body for the length. And really, I would not need to. Despite the vulnerabilities that come up. Due to the vulnerabilities that come up. I realize it is not about preventing life from occurring – in all of its glory and pain. It is not about thinking of ourselves as weak or damaged when life throws us a significant curve ball. It’s about what we do with what we are given – how we choose to rise over, how we choose to become fully human. I realize it is no better to see the glass ‘half full’ than it is to view it as’half empty’ The truth is that it is both. The wisdom comes in seeing either side, and becoming empowered to take care of the entire glass effectively. With this understanding, I free the tears which have been aching to be released.