Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year, Friends!

I don't make New Year's resolutions; it's too discouraging when I don't keep them. Besides, if I need to make a change or accomplish something really important I should be able to do it any time of the year, not wait until January. I rarely do as I'm told, so following the crowd and making resolutions because of a date on the calender isn't something I can do. Having said that, there are many things I regularly wish I had the time and energy to do. I live with a frustrating and limiting although not at all life threatening disability. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Over the years this has been variously misunderstood by many people, including the medical profession, but it is now recognized as real, not in any way psychosomatic, and of unknown origin and cure. Yeah.

While current research suggests that it is a gene mutation resulting from a virus that leaves the body believing it still has a virus after the illness has gone, the symptoms may vary slightly from person to person, but long term, unexplained fatigue is the common symptom. For me, when I have pushed myself too hard, I have a viral-like physical reaction that includes swollen lymph glands, a sore throat, headache, vague body aches and extreme exhaustion. On a daily basis I am physically tired and have a lower output level than most healthy people. The greatest challenge is that you wouldn't know this to look at me.

I have lived with this for at least ten years, which is slightly less than half the length of my marriage and two thirds of my son's life. I no longer go hiking or play squash. A day gardening can send me to bed for two days; a weekend away requires a day of recovery. I work part time and it takes so much of my energy that I have difficulty keeping up with housework, a social life and favourite activities. Mostly, I read, write and watch movies. Sometimes I draw and paint. Gardening has become more my husband's labour and my artistic direction. I like to go for walks and practice yoga. I like to cook, but stamina for that comes in fits and starts. You might wonder why I am explaining all of this.

I think that this syndrome is one of the greatest gifts I've had in this life. It makes me slow down, it forces me to prioritize and has helped me to care less about what others' think. I have had to learn to say, no. No, I'm sorry, I won't be able to participate in that. No, sorry, I can't help you with that this time. It has even helped me to do less explaining. I used to worry. I thought I should do everything. I thought I should be brilliant and fabulous and have it all and do it all. Those are the women we admire, or at least the ones held up for us to admire. Magazines offer us fantasies, fantasy people living fantasy lives and I have always been a magazine addict. Over the past decade I have learned to love myself and my life. It doesn't mean I am completely free of material wants or that I don't sometimes feel sorry for myself. I'm human, I sure do fall into those traps. I can climb out quickly though. I've learned that I make my own happiness and for that matter, my own misery.

I'm damn freakin' lucky to live where I live and have what I have, I'm amongst the wealthiest people in the world. I have shelter, safety, food and so much choice that when it comes to material things the excess of choice can be absolutely ridiculous. Yes, some of those material things contribute to my happiness. I want them and I have them. I have the opportunity to chose to be vegan, a political liberal, outspoken and often controversial in my opinions. I can chose what I want to read, what music I want to listen to and what movies I want to watch. Music and movies and books exist and are attainable in my world! I don't have to worry that because I'm female I must be covered up and repressed and punished for the sexual thoughts of the males I might cross paths with.

But happiness comes from within, not from the presence or absence of any of these things. If I am too attached to what I have, I might suffer great emotional pain if I were to lose it. If I become too attached to what I think I am and what I think I can do, I might lose it and suffer pain both physically and mentally. Illness and disability can certainly lead a person along that path. I have been through the anger and depression and sometimes still struggle with guilt. What I cannot do affects my family as well as myself. But what I can do also affects us and what I can do is so much more. the most significant thing that I can do is to be happy. To love, smile at and laugh with and be with people care about is the best part of my life. If that were taken away from me I would want to cry and moan and wail that I had lost everything, but I wouldn't have. I would have my memories, my experiences of what I gave and what I received through love.

Somehow on the journey of my life so far I figured this out. I can choose to be happy. What is there to worry about? All I have to deal with is right now. Yesterday is done with and tomorrow never comes. Right now, I have what I have and what I can't control is not worth crying over. I might not have learned that if I didn't have to deal with a debilitated body. I might still be striving to be perfect. Everything to everybody. I don't have to be perfect. I just have to be me and be happy about it. It's so simple.

1 comment:

Maria Killam said...

Shawna, I love your attitude and the positive way you handle it, we all have our own issues to deal with and you are an inspiration!
Happy New Year!

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