There’s a lot of expertise out there. There are a lot of specialists who spend years studying a lot of information, and there are a lot of cocky people claiming “my way is the right way.” When we admit “my expertise is not enough…I need help,” we have to navigate those waters, and it becomes confusing. The path to healing and resolution is indirect and unpaved. To make positive change happen, we need to admit our imperfection, ask for help, but avoid being taken advantage of. We have to let go of control, but maintain confidence.
I was admitted to the hospital last week, which felt good in some ways. It helped externalize some of the pressure, and allowed me to rest while I was assured that experts would help me figure out my problems. I was managing with a team, instead of alone. However, there were also lots of doctors ready to twist my situation into something it wasn’t, or tell me things about myself that were more harmful than helpful. Doctors do not have privileged access to all knowledge, and they make mistakes often. We have to remember that authorities are not deities.
When we’re talking about our own healing, no one expert is going to have all the answers we need because he/she studies concepts, not individuals. We have to enter into new ways of thinking with open minds, but don’t take anything as doctrine– keep the knowledge that applies to you, and discard the rest. And NEVER disregard your own discernment– you are the authority on your own well being, and you need to protect yourself.
You can admit that you’ve made mistakes, that you need help, and still reserve the right to say “no, this is wrong for me.” Admitting that you’ve made mistakes should make you even more confident in your ability to discern right from wrong and distinguish true from false because you’ve just done those things with huge bias. You called bullshit on yourself.
There will always be a hard-headed, over-opinionated type-A personality, trying to fix you, claiming his/her way is the only way. You are stronger. You have seen past his/her way of thinking. You have recognized human error, and you have to keep an open mind always, because every situation and every individual requires unique consideration and cumulative understanding. You are not a page in a textbook, you are not a single case study, or a google search results page. You do not deserve to be viewed as any of those things.
Furthermore, you can’t let one admission of error open you up to all others, or make you think less of yourself. Don’t ever think, “because I have this problem, all the bad things everyone says about me are true.” Humility should make you think more of yourself. You are above hubris. You are expansive. You are strong. You have seen truth, will see more truth, and that will open you up to the help and healing you need.
Your society preaches self-deprivation and excessive self-expectation- It tells you to be strong and build “good” character. So you learn to worship self-control and discipline. You learn that you have to be the right kind of person and live the right kind of life. You’re supposed to be a hard worker. Sit down and shut up. Follow the social norms. Ignore your impulses. Then, you’ve reached your “goals.” You made yourself fit the box. If you’re a girl, you’re supposed to be thin, keep your mouth shut, don’t try to drive a big truck. If you’re a boy, you’re supposed to be stoic, be strong, yell when someone puts the sportsball in the sportsplace.
Then you go home and you’re left with the wrong parts of yourself. You see deficits that start to gnaw at your confidence and make you think you’re not enough– “I’m weak. I’m fat. I’m selfish. I’m stupid.” We tell ourselves constantly we’re beneath our own standards. These character flaws are our downfalls. They cannot be tolerated. We have to beat them into submission, discipline ourselves to hide them.
The standards and the distractions change and fade. And eventually we’re left with all of these “inadequacies”– The parts of ourselves that don’t fit. The parts that are too lazy, needy, inadequate, untrained. We’re left with run-down, misshapen vehicles that doesn’t seem to drive well on the roads where we drove before. And we have to find ways to make the vehicles work, to fuel them, and use them for what they are.
This post is about to get sad, and serious, and honest. I’ve recently accepted new truths about myself, and I want to be open about them. I want to be brave. I am brave, and talking about problems out loud helps us fear them less and move past them further. Soon, I’m going to tell you I’m still sick. I’m sicker than I was before. I’m also going to tell you I have an eating disorder. You read that correctly. I also have a cat. Either of those things could mean everything and nothing about me, depending on how you want to judge me.
When I came into the trauma of chronic illness, my imperfection became me. It felt like I had lost everything I liked about myself. The real me had disappeared, and I was left with an unusable shell. I disappeared. I stopped writing. I had nothing of value to say. I had no right to speak to the world. I was a “sick girl,” debilitated, unimportant, expendable.
I couldn’t overwork myself anymore. I wasn’t going to school, or headed to a noble profession. Illness was taking a toll on my body, and I wasn’t attractive enough anymore. I was too weak to decide how productive to be, or maintain an energetic and spunky personality all the time. I couldn’t earn my place in the world anymore, and I didn’t fit in the pretty box I was supposed to fit in, so I was nothing.
I thought the way to overcome the illness was to hide the undesirable qualities until I had enough strength to be the right person again. I would train my sick body to be strong again. I would use self-control and knowledge to discipline my body into healing. I would eat the right things, use the right supplements, change my lifestyle, study the necessary information. Then, I would be better. I would beat the illness. I would tease and train the lazy, useless body into something acceptable. Anyone who’s been through abuse or other trauma knows this thinking well. We blame ourselves and think we can make the terrible things smaller by over-controlling unrelated aspects of our lives.
Stop. There is nothing to overcome. You are not your trauma, or your flaws. I was never my illness. I was Summer, with an illness on the side. I was always a whole person. Without school, without my activity level, without my after-school jobs and volunteer work. And the sick Summer was not deficient. She was not unable. She didn’t need training, or lack discipline or strength. But every time I came home and felt weak and tired, I told myself I had to do something to fix it. I was being the wrong kind of sick person. If I were doing enough therapy, living correctly, acting the way I was supposed to, I would be this sick. Even after I found out that I had very real immune and neurological problems causing the symptoms, I told myself it had to be partly my fault that I wasn’t better off– I wasn’t “recovering.”
Every time I got sick after a meal, I told myself I had eaten the wrong things and caused my symptoms. I tried elimination diet after elimination diet and got the same results. I became scared to eat, and I felt undeserving of food because I only deserved food if I could find out what sort of diet would heal me. A combination of my disordered thinking and digestive pain caused me to drop to 85 lbs. I was literally disappearing. I didn’t cause my digestive problems, but I made them much worse. And now, I had fewer abilities, so I deserved even less. I didn’t have enough self-control to heal myself. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t calm down.
What I needed was nourishment. What I needed was acceptance. I needed to make space for myself in a world that always tells us we’re “less than.” I needed to fight the situation, not myself. Denial is not determination. I wasn’t being “stronger” than the illness. I saw doctors and took the drugs they told me to. I exhausted myself doing medical test after medical test. I had twenty vials of blood drawn twice weekly. I obsessively read chronic illness blogs and books and took the supplements they advocated. I did yoga and other “restorative” exercise that was supposed to make me better. But I hated myself and my illness. I must have been doing it all wrong because I was still sick. I still hurt. My muscles still didn’t work the same. I still had dizziness and brain fog.
I am still learning how to love myself. How to accept my life with illness. How to nourish instead of deprive myself. How to say
“I deserve to be here. Screw you pain. Screw you eating disorder. Screw you, self-blame! I’m going to have a life anyway!”
I’m still learning that I have things to contribute, even when I can’t be the picture-perfect girl I wanted to be. And most of all, I’m learning that being less “perfect” than I wanted to be may be even more of a gift.
But I’m back. I’m making space for myself. Just as we all should. I’m done lying to myself. I’m done hiding. I’m done accepting anything less than a full life, with bumpy edges and rocky roads. I’m done coming home and crying every night because my body didn’t work the way I wanted it to that day. Instead, I’ll make it a goal to throw a well-deserved (but succinct) fit, do some yoga, pour a glass of wine, and move on. I’ll stop being scared of everything I put in my body, and I’ll enjoy my morning coffee. I’ll eat more cupcakes. Because all the kale in the Northern Hemisphere hasn’t healed me yet. I’ll go for a walk when I want to, instead of when I feel like I “should.” And if I don’t do my “therapy” everyday, I won’t beat myself up about it. I’ll spend more time with my family. I’ll be more honest with my friends. Because I’ve wasted too much time being the “right kind” of sick person. I’ve wasted too much time hating myself for being a strong, able fighter. I’m done spending every minute fighting things I can’t control, and missing the things I should be celebrating.