TW: fear, death
Dear citizens of Halloween town,
The last few weeks have tested me. I think so far I’m getting a C on the test, but that’s probably because I’ve never been great at studying.
A few weeks ago I was talking my dearest friend Stan. We’ve known each other for exactly half my life, and in those thirteen years we have strongly influenced each other. I would be such a drastically different person if not for growing up with him. Our friendship has been one of the only consistently trustworthy things I’ve had in my life. To say I’m fortunate to have grown up with such a fantastic human being is an understatement; but I digress…because I could rant about how amazing he is for basically forever. My point is, due to our closeness, he knows me better than anyone else. He can read my mind and can tell me what I need to hear. He can also tell me what I sometimes don’t want to hear, but need to hear for my own benefit.
As we talked I told him that I never had so much anxiety about getting more sick or dying as I do this year. I’ve always had a fear of dying young, but this year more than ever, the fear has been constricting me every second and it weighs on my heart like a thousand tons of cement. It’s not easy to carry it around with me, especially considering I’ve had more than a few close calls that repeat in my mind. As I’ve said countless times before, my ultimate goal is to live a healthy, long and happy life. Especially at my work I see people every day who alter bodies in order to make others think they haven’t made it to an older age; but as someone who is young and has had to face the prospect of having my life cut short, growing old is all I’ve ever wanted.
I’ve explained this to a few select people and of course not many know what to say. At best I’m given sympathy, and at worst I’m given shrugs and thick silence. While it is understandable this isn’t exactly a brunch table topic, I feel it is something those with chronic illness have to face; the uncertainty of the future and whether or not we’ll still be here for it.
As I spoke a little faster and more clumsily because my anxiety was beginning to knot my words into a frenzy, fear came pouring out of me. My eyes filled with tears and my stomach tightened as I released my darkest fear to the person who knows me best. After the emotional storm, he told me one simple sentence that had never, ever been spoken to me: “you don’t have the obligation to be scared.”
At fist this might not sound so fantastic. However he continued on to explain to me that those of us with chronic illness (including him by the way), feel that it is our obligation to be fearful. If we’re always scared, it feels like we’re doing everything that we can to prevent the worst from happening to us. It makes us feel responsible and like we can in some way save ourselves. Yet even with all the fear I’ve collected throughout my chronically ill life and all that I’ve done to prevent bad things from happening to me, they still have. They still have.
Stan explained that if I were to strive for a calmness and acceptance that I’m doing everything I can already, and that maybe there isn’t more to be done, that I might be capable of releasing myself from my anxiety and constant fear. Especially because I was raised by a fear monger, it was pumped into me from the start of my existence that I must always, always fear. I must fear the known and unknown and everything in between, including my heath. Growing up, I thought this was all normal. As I grow older and discover life through my own eyes rather than the pair I was forced to look through, I’m finding that many of my lessons are being proven wrong.
A few weeks ago I wrote this post (click the blue to read after!) in regards to the fact that it is difficult to deal with chronic pain because at a certain point the line between an emergency and your normal state of sickness is convoluted. The fogginess leads us to be fearful all the time, non-stop, because we’re never entirely sure what’s happening to us. While Stan’s epiphany has caused me a great deal of introspection, I still feel the same way. After all, I can’t change 26 years worth of fearing in three weeks.
While it makes us all very uncomfortable, the fact is that no matter how scared I am, no matter how I try to prevent negative experiences, they’re still going to happen. I can’t express enough how much I fucking despise the feeling of losing consciousness during one of my Vasovagal episodes. The truth is, regardless of how much I hate these episodes, while I do everything I can to promote my own wellness, they’re still going to happen sometimes, because there is a good deal that I’m just simply not in control of.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve started to do Yoga on my better days and physically it is a terrific help. It’s also been somewhat helpful for my mental health too. In particular, I’ve become extremely fond of one mantra that I hear often during my practice. “I let go of that which I cannot control.” Ever so slowly, I’m learning the importance of this, especially in regards to my health. I must let go what I cannot control.
Of course this doesn’t mean one should not take any responsibility for themselves. If you’re a Celiac who doesn’t care about what they eat and then complain about your symptoms, I cannot have sympathy for you (and I am a Celiac). Those who are chronically ill have a responsibility to themselves to advocate as best they can. When you truly have done everything possible to be the best version of yourself despite your illnesses, you have a little less to fear, because you’re making the “things to be afraid of” list shrink a bit. It would be nice to obliterate it entirely, but I think even for the healthiest people, at certain points, being a human is a little bit frightening to do. Even more so when you put all your passion into it.
I’m not going to say everyone should stop being afraid. I’m not going to lie and say I’m magically cured of all my fear either, because I’d be lying through my maloclussed teeth. I will say that I believe that the stress that comes from the constant fear is sickening and aggravates every single one of my diagnoses, and I think that goes for most people.
Chronically ill people are constantly suffocated under stereotypes of what we should be like, and while that’s a horse of a different color and a post for another time, I will say that these stereotypes are unnecessary pressure placed upon us. To cut my rant short, there is no correct way to be chronically ill, regardless of what society tells us.
Though we are constantly hurting, end up in hospitals more than any person should, and even when our entire futures are unclear because we have no idea how we’ll function, fear does not have to be so tightly wound around our throats, choking out the remaining joy we have. Fear is not the only option. While I’m not totally sure how to make it less dominant in my life, I do know that I am going to start making calmness and relaxation more of a priority in my life, as well as working on acceptance of what I cannot control. Sounds like a piece of cake…right?
The only thing to fear is fear itself. But holy crap…fear is terrifying.
Quit crying your eyes out,
Quit crying your eyes out, and baby c’mon,
isn’t there something familiar about me?
The past is only the future with the lights on.