This is a sort of a companion piece to my last article on not letting disability define you. It may at first seem contradictory as I — this time around — explore accepting my current reality (including disability) to lessen overall suffering; but, once again, my aim lies at liberating myself and others from self-constructed mental limitations.
The idea for this article came about after a setback in recovery after experiencing a period of relative wellness for a few weeks. Having fallen back into a wave of symptoms, I was crushed because all the things I want in life — and thought I was one step closer to obtaining– disappeared; I felt a very real sense of loss despite never having acquired any of the things I dreamed of during my time of respite.
During this setback, I realized I was only adding to my suffering by not accepting the greater reality of my situation. It’s not a reality I’d wish on anyone but, if not accepting my injury and limited lifestyle only makes me worse in the long run, then it is clearly in my best interest to just accept my current limitations.
My symptoms are, on different days, either tolerable or intolerable. On the tolerable days, I dream of my future and all that it could be; when intolerable, I beg for relief and question my decision to keep living. The nature of my injury requires that I go through frequent, varying waves of symptoms followed by windows of relief. So during my windows, I need to find someway of balancing my fantasies about the future so that when the symptoms inevitably return, I’m not crushed by the weight of my own self-constructed fantasies dissolving before my eyes.
Don’t get me wrong, dreams are a crucial part of recovery and motivate me to keep going when pain is intolerable, but they also lead to additional mental anguish. It’s a real “catch-22,” as without my dreams it’s doubtful I’d still be here, but with them I’m slowing recovery as a whole. For instance, as I recover and experience more frequent periods of relief, I naturally have to endure falling back into symptomatic periods. It’s an exhausting, manic-depressive way of life that is becoming another symptom in itself with its own limitations and consequences. Ideally, balancing my windows and waves would free up more energy with which to create art, meaning, connections and life itself.
Here’s how my fantasy played out and dissolved as rapidly as it was created. During the brief break from my symptoms mentioned above, I became obsessed with the idea of working full-time again. I reasoned to myself, “If I’m working full-time, I can afford a nicer place, see a naturopath, get healthy, socialize with friends, have a relationship, start saving for a house, etc, etc, etc (to infinity).”
I craved this future so badly that I constructed a new “reality” in my head — actually living and breathing it, as I further detached from my current situation. When my symptoms returned shortly thereafter and none of the above had actually happened, I was crushed, feeling a loss so deep it actually felt as if I had owned and lost a house, began and ended a relationship, and started and ended a career. I focused so intently on my future that I created a false reality infinitely preferable to the one I’m currently living; and, so, as we do as humans, I decided to live there for a few weeks without considering the long-term consequences.
My return to reality was harsh because I’m still quite limited. Further, as I recently passed the 18-month mark in recovery, I realized that the initial two-year recovery timeframe is looking more like three or four years — a hard truth I’ve been trying to run away from.
The facts didn’t matter. I clearly preferred hanging out in fantasyland, zeroing in on all the good things that could happen; but, in the end, it made me feel incredibly empty living an idealized version of life that had no root in reality. Ideals are uplifting, especially when life seems bleak, but how hard should I hang onto them if they hurt me in the long run?
Essentially, with my end-goal being recovery, I completely forgot about the recovery process itself; I lost sight of the prize and forgot that I have a lot of work ahead of me whether I like it or not. I can talk a big game about sitting here with my pain and learning from it, but I’m also human, so, I too, am full of shit at times, telling myself what I want to hear but not what I need to hear. I want to escape this hell, but that’s not realistic and that, at the most fundamental of levels, is life: it’s not fair, but it’s also a potentially beautiful mystery worth discovering on my own terms.
I need to rethink my definition of “success,” which simply becomes: regaining my health. That’s it. Obtaining my wants in life afterward will be entirely up to me and how I choose to spend my time. After all my trails, who is to say I can’t do something in the future? No one. I’ll never accept the word “can’t” again as it has lost all meaning. For example, I tell myself multiple times a week that I can’t take the pain anymore, yet I do it week after week, month after month. If I can survive this, I’ll be able to do anything I set my mind to.
I get so excited about my future that I want to leap out of my skin and into society like a wrecking ball; but with that excitement also comes the pain from smashing up against the brick wall of reality, so there has to be a middle ground. The longer I live, the more I realize that life appears to be one giant balancing act: if I openly accept my windows of relief, then I too need to come to grips with the waves of hell.
The way to balance these two entirely different lives I lead is to accept the reality of each window and wave on its own merits, free from self-deception. The life I so often fantasize about must begin right now — even while injured. I separate the two in order to make sense of my current situation, but the reality is it’s the same life — my life. If I want the future I envision, I must accept my current situation so that the minimal energy I have is spent building myself up instead of tearing myself down.
I am much stronger and capable than I give myself credit for.
As are you — if you truly believe it.
Originally published at medium.com