First and foremost, I started this blog as a form of therapy: a place where I could voice my hopes and fears, and work through some of my frustrations. Last winter, when I was so sick, I felt a sense of hopelessness creeping in, and I needed to do something about it. This blog was my way of taking back a little control, and re-narrating my life in a way that made sense. I began to piece together a new sense of self that had room for the woman I know as “Megan,” and the new identities and labels that were crowding her out: patient, chronically ill, lupus, RA, depressed, unhappy.
Somewhere along the way, I started “meeting” other people with chronic illnesses, through their blogs and twitter, and suddenly I had a readership (perhaps mostly fictional, but a few hardy souls kept reading) and a sense of connection. The load seemed somehow easier to bear. And some of the labels started to seem less and less a part of me, while the others felt more manageable. As I continue to blog, I find that it’s the chance to engage and connect that keeps me coming back, as well as the knowledge that there may be someone out there like me, feeling scared and alone, who will read my words and realize that she’s not the only one, that her pain and fear are real, but that there is life with chronic illness.
When I was younger, I made several blogging attempts and failed each time. I had the desire to write, but I didn’t know what to write about. And so my blogs languished in corners of the internet, mildly solipsistic and eventually abandoned. This little experiment–Objects in Mirror are Closer than They Appear—is now just over a year old. I won’t claim it doesn’t have its solipsistic moments, I am human after all, but I feel like I finally have something to say and the place to say it. Plenty of days I feel like I have more to say than I will ever be able to contain in these little snippets of my perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.
So thank you for reading, whomever you are, and know that I write for you, even if I don’t know you yet.
This post is part of the WEGO Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge (HAWMC). During the month of April I will be writing a daily blog post related to health and health activism, often inspired by or in response to a prompt. For more information on HAWMC, visit the WEGO Health blog.
This blog was written as part of the Chronic Babe blog carnival on new years resolutions.
As I think I’ve said before, I’m not really one for new years resolutions. I tend to save my personal resolutions for my birthday, and my professional/academic resolutions for the beginning of the school year. For me, those times feel more natural for goal-setting and making changes. Plus, January and February have always been the most depressing months of the year for me—the holiday decorations are down, it’s dark, cold, and wet, the second semester is dragging along—not exactly the best time to start lecturing myself about all my perceived problems and failings.
About a month ago I read Neil Fiore’s book The Now Habit which is all about breaking the procrastination cycle (ironically—and perhaps unsurprisingly—I was reading a book on procrastination in order to avoid grading papers). Someone had recommended it to me and it seemed like it might have some useful tools for helping get my dissertation written. It’s pop psychology, so don’t expect any elaborate, grand-unified-theory explanations. But I found his observations and solutions for negative self-talk really helpful.
Basically Fiore suggests that instead of approaching the tasks that one dislikes (or that feel challenging and/or threatening) as things that one “should” do— un-enjoyable activities require chiding and self-punishment to complete—one can instead use language like “I will begin X project today [or tomorrow, or on a specific day] and work on it for X amount of time.” By simply resolving to start (or continue) a project, and then following through, one must take responsibility for doing just that. This also helps to overcome the initial inertia that often causes procrastinators to obsess and make themselves miserable over a task or project and then only start it at the very last possible minute (this describes my relationship to grading papers perfectly). Fiore’s argument is that this small change in language (and the behavior it leads to) can release one from a great deal of guilt and misery, freeing up time to do enjoyable things without a black cloud of “shoulds” hanging over one’s head.
What, you might be asking, does this have to do with chronic illness or new years resolutions? I find that I often chide myself for not being more productive on my bad days, making those days even worse. Rather than treating my tired, aching self like a petulant child, I will try to speak to myself more kindly, as I would any ill person I encountered, taking my own pain seriously.
So my only resolution for the new year is to continue finding ways of being kinder to myself, a resolution I originally made when I turned 30. For me, this means learning coping strategies that allow me to enjoy my good days more; treating myself with the same kindness that I treat others, rather than holding myself to an impossible ideal; avoiding toxic and disrespectful people, especially in my personal life; and accepting that some days will be better than others, but having faith that the good days will come, just not always when I expect them. I will determine what I want and need, and try to ignore the disapproving voice that lectures me about what I should or shouldn’t be doing.
Living with chronic illness is no picnic, and I think sometimes the worst thing we can do is think about all the things we’d like to change about ourselves, rather than all the positive qualities we already have. Most of us are incredibly caring and empathetic people, we just sometimes forget to extend that care and acceptance to ourselves. Breathe. Sleep. Love. The rest will work itself out.
Well, OK, maybe just a short one. It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged, but the microbloggery of facebook and twitter just aren’t cutting it these days. Maybe I just need an outlet while I’m writing my dissertation. I’ll let you know when I figure that one out.
I always struggle with the “where to start” question when it comes to narrative projects, autobiographical or otherwise. But you don’t need to know my life story for any of this to matter, so I’ll start with the thought that made me want to start blogging again, and hope that’s enough.
The other day I tagged myself in a photo a friend had taken me at a costume party a couple months ago. It’s a great photo of me, and I like it. But as friends– especially friends who don’t live here, and/or who haven’t seen me in a long time– started to post compliments, it began to make me uncomfortable. It’s only recently that I’ve started to really feel comfortable in my own skin. And while I recognize that I’m conventionally attractive in most of the “right” ways, it really took until my late 20s before I was able to see myself that way. I always saw myself as quirky and off-kilter, unconventional and interesting. Not attractive. But now, in my early 30s, I’m in possibly the best shape of my life, and I look good. And I’m finally able to see that. I won some genetic lottery that makes me tall, thin, and well-proportioned. I don’t want to be the kind of woman who can’t take a compliment. But there’s a huge caveat to all of this. (Isn’t there always?) It’s false advertising. And I do mean beyond the hair extensions and the fake eyelashes in this particular picture (which may make me sound like a drag queen, but I swear it’s no different than the average cosmetics ad– that new mascara will not make your eyelashes look like that unless you’re using glue, trust me). I’m down to the size I was when I was in college– or maybe junior year of high school, even– but it has very little to do with willpower, diet, exercise, or self-denial. Having defined triceps for the first time in my life? Well, I’ll take some credit for the yoga that made that possible. But the rest? Chronic illness. And it’s a magic bullet I cannot recommend.