Letting life be what it is at any given moment is not something that comes naturally to us. I was reminded of this as a student from my new chair yoga class (wow!) observed that I looked tired. I confirmed that I was, and she asked what I would be doing after class. I said I would be going home to bed.
There was a time I would have felt a lot of shame about admitting that, given that my class ended at 3:30pm on a Tuesday, when many people at work would be looking forward to what they’d do when 5 o’clock ticked around. I know because that’s what happens in movies and TV shows, and that’s what other people have told me. Having lived with chronic illness for over 24 years, that’s long been beyond my experience.
In the first years of my illness, back in the 90s, I remember often getting home from my then 9-to-5 job and going to bed. I’d be shattered. Life was hard. It was a battle. It was probably even a war.
I used to think in terms of the warrior analogy so many people still use when talking about illness – chronic or acute. I realize now that this kind of analogy only sets us up for an “us and them” mentality – the mind versus the body. In a war, you have to be ever-vigilant to not let the enemy (in this case, illness) get the better of you. You have to fight to be “normal” – to be a productive member of society. It’s exhausting.
Until I had to let my job go earlier this year, I was fighting every day of my life to be a productive person, and every nap born of the necessity of my illness seemed like a failure to overcome adversity.
Many days are still a struggle, but I try not to add to it by railing against what is, or knocking myself down for having to rest so much. I don’t always succeed and those days are the ones where I sink into depression and feelings of loss.
When I got home from teaching my chair class on Tuesday, I was indeed shattered. It’s hard to describe the concept of fatigue to someone who has not experienced it on an unremitting basis for decades. It’s hard to explain flares, and the days where getting out of bed is difficult. On Tuesday, I’d already felt sick when I got to class. When I got home, I did indeed go to bed. I crashed. Although I woke up many times, I spent most of the next 24 hours in bed, getting up around 2pm the following day. It was Christmas Eve.
I hear people talking about their Christmas plans – shopping, travelling, time with family and friends, and parties. I used to do all those things before I got ill. Now, I think about what I’d do if I had to do those things. I wouldn’t have the energy to teach chair yoga. I wouldn’t have the energy to sit up on Christmas morning and write this post.
Life is a trade-off with chronic illness, and I don’t regret the choices I have to make. I haven’t done a lot this year, if I tally it up in the conventional sense. Becoming a yoga teacher, however, is perhaps one of the most amazing achievements of my life. Being able to open the door to the moments of peace that are available in a yoga practice, as it was opened to me, is the most incredible gift. To sit down in a chair in that class and (while struggling with the old tapes of “who the hell do I think I am?”) watch people breathe and move and discover their own power is sustaining. Seeing a student truly withdraw (even for a moment) from the battle between mind and body, and find the Yoga (union) between the two is astounding to me.
If the only thing I’ve learned this year is how to better stand in the presence of what is, to be okay with how my life has changed, to move from limitations to possibilities, then I’ve been truly blessed. Being okay with what is is the best feeling in the world if only we have the courage to stand it.