Deeply woven into the root-bed of fibromyalgia or any chronic illness there is, so often, a lurking mindset that is one version or another of self-blame; a theory that you have either done something wrong to cause it in the first place or are continuing to do so, otherwise – goes the theory – you would be recovered by now. If this mindset isn’t there to start with, it very often creeps in after years of trying to get well and hits you hardest in your “low” moments.
If I were to entertain this still (and I know that I have), I would be in a constant state of self-beratement as I still experience what most people would regard to be significant “set-backs” in my recovery progress. I’m in such a place right now….experiencing a great deal of pain, limitation and fatigue (I won’t list it all)…which means I am right back to leading a very mini version of my previous existence, unable to plan ahead by a day let alone a week or a month and feeling like I’ve had to stop so many of the things I was really enjoying (like dancing) over the summer. When this happens, it can feel like you’re set right back at the beginning of the long-haul of recovery again and it can be hard not to experience this kind of “set back” without a profound sense of disappointment; harder still not to ask “what did I do wrong?”
Yet, with ever increasing confidence, I know its got absolutely nothing to do with me that I’m back in this place. There’s nothing that I did wrong, no lurking mindset of defeatism undermining me, I don’t secretly enjoy feeling too lousy to lead a “normal, active” life, I’m not lazy or useless, I didn’t think myself into this state or fail to do something I was meant to do. There’s nothing amiss with my will to recover, my relentless optimism, my determination to speed my recovery in whatever way I can. I’ve done all this “good stuff” to the nth degree, am still doing it all – and that includes all the deep inner work, the self-love, the relaxing and letting go – so where’s the trip wire? Is there one?
When this kind of set-back happens (and in chronic illness, it often does) we tend to march off on a fairly predictable route of self-enquiry that, sooner or later, reaches the territory of wondering if we are feeding the problem with our own doubts, a propensity to half-expect the setbacks before they happen, tripped-up by a subliminal pessimism that we weren’t aware of having. Even when we’re ninety-nine percent sure this isn’t the case, we can feel cornered into wondering whether this isn’t true, leaving us with a leaden sense of being inherently flawed in some way we can’t quite put our finger on. In short, “am I doing this to myself, is it all my fault?” sits there, at our core, like an eternal rock of self-doubt.
Then the next biggie – when we get to the point of feeling disappointed, overwhelmed, emotional, unhinged or plain angry at another thwarted recovery, we tell ourselves we shouldn’t be feeling all of this “negative” stuff; we should shrug all those reactions off and look on the bright side, even act as though what we are going through isn’t really happening.
None of this is helped by some very prevalent attitudes “out there”, especially in self-improvement and spiritual circles, which not only hint that health challenges are some sort of red flag to an embarrassing case of “misalignment” with higher-purpose (our perfect, divine self held up as the eternal human role-model), of being “off target” in the way we are conducting our lives but also that, to be the super-evolved human specimen we aspire to, we should be acting as though everything is “great”. A dressed-up version of “accepting what is” (which can be a powerful rule of thumb), this attitude seems to suggest that we should act as though our hardest challenges are some sort of happy-clappy party and that we are enjoying every minute of them!
Taken the extreme way, this “acceptance” is akin to negating what is going on with our bodies, playing it down, denying it, refusing to hear it – none of which is self-loving in the slightest. While I’m all for positive spin and looking for the gift in every circumstance, hard adherence to such a hard and fast rule leaves some very challenged people with nowhere as an outlet for their real and very human reactions to what can be a very frightening experience indeed; in fact, they even turn on themselves for having these thoughts and this is where healing stops in its tracks. Surely ,”accepting what is” needs to include accepting all of these, very real, emotions coursing through us at these times.
“Misalignment” as a concept can help us identify when a food source in’t serving us or when our lifestyle is out of sync with our highest wellbeing and these kind of enquiries, which someone with chronic illness is perhaps more likely to go off on than most, can be extremely helpful. No surprise that people from a background of these kind of health issues are often the most prolific and motivated writers, sharers and researchers on lifestyle issues that benefit us all in countless positive ways. Yet, lets get this straight – when you have fibromyalgia or any other chronic issue going on, you are no more broken, missing the point, off-track, lost, wrong, misguided, less-than, flawed or misaligned than the next person. To measure progress on the evolutionary path by what is presenting in the physical body is to negate the essential part that our humanity plays on that journey – and the fact that it can often take the “slings and arrows” of the journey harder than anything else. It could even be that the turbulence we experience is evidence that we are even further along that evolutionary path than most so lets not get into a competition about it – it is what it is and we all have our particular crosses to bear.
I prefer to look at it from the point of faith that wherever I happen to be in any particular moment is exactly where I need to be and therefore I am exactly aligned with my highest purpose – even when it feels as challenging as hell. From that perspective, I get to experience the epiphany that perhaps this is a clue that I’m meant to slow down, to take better care of myself, to love myself even more than I was already doing.
That includes being loving enough to dump all the self-blame, the finger-pointing and, yes, the inner chastisement that stops me from feeling, allowing and EXPRESSING how pissed-off I am at what is happening to me (all over again)!
Allowing these feelings to flush through your cells and have an outlet – yes, to be said outloud, shouted if necessary, or write it all down – is like watching a fiery sunset wash through the sky; everything turns orange, red and purple – its clashing vibrancy is what makes it so incredibly beautiful – and then its gone. Suppressing it (and feeling guilty for it) is a whole different matter – those of us in chronic-land are already living evidence of how cells have extremely long-lasting memory so how is storing all this up going to benefit our long-term recovery, really? Letting this stuff have a voice is the most loving thing you can do and the self-loving act that this amounts to is the hidden gift in it all – how aligned is that!
Just to recap, you didn’t make yourself ill, you did’t prevent your own recovery and you didn’t do wrong for feeling pissed-off with the situation. You didn’t bring any of this down on your own head due to anything you (ever) did and its not some sort of punishment or pay-back for past “sins”, its not a marker that you’re failing or lagging behind, you’re not a “let-down” or a “bad person” and, in fact, it says a great deal about your incredible powers of endurance and optimism to have survived this for even the shortest period of time.
And, no, its (absolutely) not fair that this happened to you when there are other experiences you would prefer so you’re allowed to be really unhappy with the situation if that’s what comes up for you – what’s the point of meekly smiling and saying “I’m fine with this” when your heart’s not in it? Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise; don’t let anyone (yourself included) make you feel you’re doing something wrong, letting anyone down, wallowing in self-pity or left out of some sort of evolution party when you shout “Fv*k- it, I’m really hurting today!” This IS your greatest evolution and you chose one of the hardest possible routes to get there so make sure you really love yourself – and everything you’re feeling – along the way. Then allow all of these colours, moods and emotions to pass on through – unhindered, unjudged and (except where it is helpful to your recovery to come up with an action plan) largely unanalysed.
This is an analogy I like to hold on to when it gets almost too much to cope with; the sky isn’t either “dark and thundery”, “clear and blue” or any of an infinite number of states in between and we are fundamentally the same. Like a blank canvas, the sky takes on all the colours, moods and contrasts of the passing weather, the time of day or night and the varying nuances of the changing seasons without becoming any of those things – and, real as fibromyalgia feels when you’re in it, none of this defines us either. “Dark” as your “sky” may become, its good to know that – just like a temporary weather system sailing on through – this too will pass and blue skies will come around once again.
So, when a fiercely dramatic, dark and brooding “weather system” takes over the “sky” of me – and its been a three-week weather front this time around – I focus on allowing that its just a passing season. This means that I don’t have to identify with it (I’m not in a shitty state; those are just temporary sensations in my body), to work out why it happened (it was nothing that I “did”) or how to get rid of it (which can come as an almighty relief as you can simply call off any panic-stations going on). When I hold this as a passive, non-involved, non-alarmed state and simply watch what unfolds as the quietly interested observer, I can do whatever I need to do to cope with the practicalities of the situation – and I can say it like it is without fearing judgement from anyone or that I am setting my recovery (and evolution!) back in some unfathomable way. So yes, if I really want to cry with the sheer frustration of it all, I get to do all that too – just like anyone would if their lovely party got rained off by a sudden storm cloud passing through.
Where I am – just like everyone else – is perfectly imperfect and I accept all of its subtlest colour variants as part of an extraordinarily broad rainbow of experience. I even marvel a little at the fact I got to experience all of this – packed full of so many ironies and unexpected gifts as it is – as there’s nothing like extreme contrast to remind you of the equally extreme joy of being alive.
For the next uplifting expansion of the themes in this post, read “Amplifying the good stuff“