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The Tricky Art of Hanging on During Life-Rattling Events

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The stress I used to think was a big deal... wasn't. Evenings after work, I would rush in the door, run to my bedroom, shuck off my work clothes and head upstairs to make dinner. I wondered how I could continue at my insane pace as I plugged myself into my place at the dinner table and tried to decompress.

Turns out continuing to figure it out as it were was not to be. I got life-changing sick. The household recoiled as if forced to sit next to a pustulent, grotesque stain that had plopped itself on the couch. Mom catching a disease is a big deal, and we weathered a number of cracks in the foundation. Sure, we emerged with black eyes and broken teeth, but we emerged.

I guess I thought this illness had an end, as in, well, it's me and I'm immune to death or anything which would advance my demise so this weird little blip will be over soon. Yet it keeps going on and it keeps bringing new obstacles as it goes. Lost and disinterested friends. Check. Strained relationship. Check. Lost job. Check. Scared and angry kids. Check. Lapsed health insurance. Check. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

I reinvented myself. Climbed back into my chrysalis as many times as I needed to try and re-birth myself as the right damn animal. Something fluffy and sweet with giant anime eyes, half platypus, half parakeet? I still haven't gotten it right. The illness persists.

What do you do when you are forced to change, when the process of morphing pushes you away from the people you love the most? An illness can be a deal breaker. The stark terms of your life laid out, stripped down and disassembled force an awakening. Awakenings are usually a blessed bonus, but it's no surprise that awakenings can also drive a wedge between you and well, everyone. Nothing is more shocking than the underbelly of disease, sick people can have jerky personalities. Well, people can act like asses... to sick people.

So you spend a lot of time being mad. You question, Who am I to be angry when a perfect life is never promised? Am I among the haughty and healthy, and do I really think illness is beneath me?

Forces have been at work against me this week. I have been taking jobs from home and my cell will cut out in the middle of a business call. This, after my deduction I'd been talking to myself for 30 seconds. My email froze. The keyboard on my Chromebook stopped working. I had to complete 240 Google Analytics reports using the on-screen keyboard. Did your brain just explode? Geek Squad will probably block my number. One PC's laptop adapter fried, the other PC is in a perpetual state of trying to find itself. Who am I if admin can't be found? I look up at the universe for the millionth time this year trying to solve the riddle, what do you want me to do with this new me, now rendered work-less, I yell at the ceiling, You do understand we have to eat, right? Sure, it's lovely to have a vacation, but this is what I know. Now there's a kink in the hose.

The ceiling stays quiet. So I laugh, call the ceiling the b-word, I cry the tiniest bit when my family is out running errands. I make everyone sick to death of me. Me struggling is a prickly pear. I get it. But this prickly pear is lonely. This prickly pear is puzzled. What is my next step, already? Show me so I can conquer the world.

Back to the visceral plan, which encompasses eating and breathing and ensuring those involuntary systems stay up and running. You can do this. When you have to keep going do the best you can every day. Sometimes it's just breathing while practicing grace. Despite what anyone says, move forward in that best way even if you only travel an inch. Forgive yourself for not being as collected as you usually are.

Confronting one's mortality can have that effect. All sick people know that. Well people don't. Let's call them wellies. It's okay. Wellies are not supposed to understand, I remind myself. They are merely supposed to try. It is all they will accomplish and it is their role. I'm not saying lower your expectations, but adjust them.

Each day is new. Each night is a time of reflection. What was learned, done, planned, how did my body perform? Did I have one of my good days, or bad? Did I tell you illness is very selfish? Oh yes indeedy, if you are the ailing one, take that nugget in. Each uncontrollable mess of a moment is a lesson in letting go. You might call me a reluctant Zen artist, sitting at the canvas attempting to paint peace, when I want to fall back on what's old and comforting, even if it is toxic. I want to paint trees in a pile of tinder, victims of a brutal storm. I want to paint blue, weary souls, breaking and healing hearts, misunderstanding and strife. The usual nonsense of my past life. Not this happiness I am supposed to be feeling and for which I am supposed to be grateful... no matter how stupid contagious it is. But some days the joy rushes in and suffocates me. I have felt the most purpose of my life this year. My calling is slowly taking shape, as if revealed through a veil.

No one can do your life work. No one can take your importance away unless you let them. No one can force you to do, feel, be, anything. You are you, in your very personalized battle of life. Not one person is more interested in your success than you. Your caring should be enough because it is enough.

However you are fighting these emotional changes due to illness, a layoff, divorce, a death, an accident, or tragedy, refusing to drown as tumultuous waves eclipse your life, you are doing it right. Because you are surviving. Even if you're wild, drenched, waving your arms and screaming while beating at the torrents coming for you, if you are still sucking in air, you got it.

All we can do is move forward with the best of intentions and with our unique capabilities and limitations. I don't care what anyone else says, this is living in all its ugly glory, even if at times it resembles white-knuckle surviving. It's living with new limits.

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Original article appeared at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission.

Photo credit: Flickr/Sean McGrath