We can commit to ourselves, too. As a matter of fact, we must.
Too many of us are dying. And not the dying that feels like the natural order of things. The dying that feels out of place. The panicked slide into precarity. Finances, fragile. Mental health, cracking. Bodies, bowed and exhausted from the strain.
I’ve written about fostering resiliency, and some days, fostering resiliency isn’t enough. I have to commit to myself. In sickness and in health.
My name is Thorn. I have chronic illness. I have for decades now, but I used to be able to manage. I used to be able to pretend I wasn’t sick, because I was stronger then, and my capacity to cope was better. My immune system hadn’t been attacking itself for years yet, eating up my resources and wearing me down.
Besides, doctors told me nothing was wrong with me. Herbalists and acupuncturists helped me the best they could. I helped myself the best I could. More meditation. More exercise. Vitamins. Weightlifting. A personal trainer. Lighting candles. Trying to rest. Finally getting to the point where I refused to travel for work anymore.
All of that meant I did a lot––more than others, even––until the day came when I couldn’t do anymore. I was crawling back into bed. Breaking dates with my girlfriend. Asking my partners to take on more of our household burdens.
And then I got worse.
Why did I not talk about having chronic illness? I thought it was in my past––I had a motorcycle accident in my late 20s, was in chronic pain for years, and then all the little, increased illnesses and fatigue started, until working with a homeopath and making some life changes shifted something in me.
I thought I was better. And I was better. The still getting mild illnesses way too often? Well, that must just be from all the work travel. Who wouldn’t be tired after that?
Besides, unless you have some visible disability, or are puking your guts up, people don’t believe you’re really sick. Also, I’m a private person. An introvert. I don’t want to have to explain myself all the damn time. I shouldn’t have to. It’s nobody’s business.
Except, people still want things from me, and I’ve been saying no for so long that I now feel, perhaps, I should explain. I seem great on the surface, I’m sure. I’m publishing books. I go out to see movies, or music, and go for long walks. Sometimes I make it out to actions or to testify at city council meetings. When I can. You don’t see the days when I’m barely able to drag my carcass around the block for a short walk.
I don’t call myself a spoonie, proudly wearing my identity… but I am still a person who just cannot go to organizing meetings anymore. Who often barely makes it out to street actions or other events and hasn’t risked arrest in over three years. Who only recently started volunteering again, twice a month, because every time I went to volunteer the past three years, I was too sick to go.
So yeah, I guess I am a spoonie* by definition. But I don’t want the name. I don’t want a new identity. I’ve got a tentative relationship with enough of those already. Witch. Queer. Genderqueer. Author. Activist. Creative. Placeholder names. Attempts to explain the soup that makes up a…
Chronically ill. Exhausted. Betrayed by capitalism. Betrayed by medical professionals who repeatedly told me nothing was wrong with me. Betrayed by my own body that forms antibodies to attack itself, especially my thyroid function. Betrayed by one of my favorite things in this gorgeous, embodied world: food. Yeah. Turns out, “healthy eater” though I’ve been, a host of food allergies increase the likelihood that my body will turn on itself, repeatedly.
So I’ve been slowly getting sicker, poisoned year by year.
In sickness and in health. My life is what I’ve got.
It’s what you’ve got.
It’s what we’ve all got these days, with our rivers choking from pollution, earthquakes caused by fracking, our lead filled water, and our toxic skies. We’ve got capitalism and multi-billionaires and people half a paycheck from living on the hostile streets. I read recently that 40% of people in the US can’t regularly make their basic bills. Forty percent.
And a lot of us are sick. Mentally. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually.
This is me, just talking about it, with nothing profound to say except, “We’re here. And we’re not going anywhere, you fuckers.”
In sickness and in health. On our “good” days or those days when brain fog settles in, our skin feels abraded, and our bones feel as if they’re made of the heaviest substances on earth.
Another reason I never talked about my chronic illness?
Besides the fact that I was managing it quite well––traveling the world two to three times a month, teaching, seeing clients, writing books, maintaining relationships, volunteering, doing in the streets activism––people still judged me. They disapproved. They wanted to shame me for it. How could a healer get sick all the time? How could a teacher of spiritual practice not have a super high-functioning body? Couldn’t I just manifest it? Will myself better? Sometimes I even partially blamed myself, even while trying my hardest not to.
Or people would offer concerned comments: wasn’t I taking care of myself? Why was I sick again? I needed to take better care of myself! They didn’t see the extra meditation sessions, the commitment to exercise, the personal trainer, trying this food or that food, seeing herbalists, acupuncturists. And they didn’t see the western doctors who told me nothing was wrong. That there were no tests to run. I was normal.
Fuck the shame.
In health, or in fucking sickness.
I’m what I’ve got.
The same goes for this planet. In health or in fucking sickness, as ozone and oceans gasp for a clean, sustaining breath.
The same goes for our communities. In health or in fucking sickness, as beloveds are shot in the streets, or lose their jobs, or can’t afford their meds because we live within systems of oppression and spiraling greed.
What choice do we have?
We have the choice to recommit. To ourselves. To each other. To this earth.
In sickness and in health. This is what we’ve got.
Please choose yourself. Please choose one another. Please choose this planet, this life, this home. We may not always feel up to the task, but, in sickness and in health, can we at least commit to try? Our best may not feel like enough every day. But every day, it’s what we’ve got.
And together, we’ll make do. On days when I feel better, I’ll pick up some slack. On days when you feel better? I trust you to do the same. And that will look different for each of us, no doubt.
We can expand our capacity for showing up as we are, not as who we want to be.
In sickness and in health.
I’ll keep sending out a signal, and I’ll be listening for yours.
*Lupus blogger Christine Miserandino first explained her lack of energy using spoons as an energy measurement. A person has so many spoons at the start of the day. Getting up might use one. Showering can take another. Chronically ill people will often say “I don’t have enough spoons left to do x or y.” I don’t use this language, but know people who do. They often call themselves “spoonies.”
This is part of an ongoing series of essays on Life in Empire, and the third to directly deal with illness. The second is about the gifts listening to the patterns of illness can offer us.
The first was written after I finally got an (initial, incomplete) diagnosis. I’ve since also fired that doctor and the naturopath that replaced her. I’m now working with both a new nurse practitioner and a naturopath who seem to want to actually help with my symptoms.
But this essay is, of course, not just about me. It’s about too many of us.
Wishing you good health, and ways to navigate your illness if you need them.
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