"Most people would be surprised if they understood how much I struggle" - A Message For the Walking Wounded
A good friend of mine is a bridge engineer and he happened to be assigned to a project close to my home to replace a bridge that I frequently drove over to get to work.
"Mel, whatever you do, do not drive over that bridge." My friend wasn't normally one for melodrama so I took his advice seriously. Having assessed the need to replace the bridge, my friend was aware that it was currently structurally unsafe to use, with pieces regularly falling off of it into the river.
The bridge in question would be closed a full 3 years later.
But in the meantime, it was indeed "functional." It identified as a usable bridge. It helped cars get from A to B without getting wet. And yet all the signs were there that major problems loomed not far away.
There's a common duality that arises when we're chronically unwell. We may be able to achieve a certain level of functioning and in many cases this level could be quite high.
And yet, we're struggling. Hard.
This paradox may arise because our mind enjoys the energy saving heuristic of black and white thinking: are you sick are are you well? But what I commonly hear from people I work with is: both! And it's confusing!
This shows up in a variety of ways. On the one hand, we may still be handling a decent load of work, responsibility and activity. Caring for family. Showing up every day to work. Sometimes doing an inspired job, other times eeking by. Maybe still doing some fun things like travel or gym or hobbies.
Or maybe that last group has been culled. Just to make sure the lights stay on in your body and in your home.
On the other side we have the price we're paying. Maybe you don't sleep. Your digestion is a mess. You suffer in silence with migraines. Body pain. Aches, Brain fog and attention issues. Anxiety, depression, feeling lost.
You have strategies in place to keep everything humming along and the wheels from coming off. If I take ashwaghanda then I can muddle through a day of poor sleep. I can handle 2 coffees to get me through but 3 give me palpitations and the shits. If I just put some duck tape here and fix this with a spot of glue there, and a pole to prop up this bit here . . .
But at the core, the most interesting paradox is at the level of identity: your outward identity is that of a healthy, high functioning person. Indeed, because of all the self-care steps you have to take just to function at your current baseline, most of your friends and family think of you as "the healthy one". The one with all the vitamins and gadgets and self-care practices.
Inwardly, things haven't been right for a long time. Of course, they could be worse. I mean, just look around at everyone else! But you know it shouldn't take so much effort just to function. Just to digest your food. To move with ease. To have reliable energy. To sleep and rest deeply.
So part of the irony becomes that the part of you that would be most well-suited to help you plan your recovery, so that you weren't just surviving, is the part of you most tied up in preserving the status quo, making sure that you keep things precariously humming along day to day.
Meanwhile, the part of you that's aware that something's gotta change, that you're one infection or unexpected bill or news cycle away from collapse is that part of you that's least well-equipped to prioritize a long-term transformative plan. This is the part that curls you up into the fetal position on a weekend, so that you'll feel well enough to face Monday.
So what do we do? How do we solve the paradox? The first is in recognizing and embracing our multiplicity. Our culture perpetuates the myth of the "monomind" - having "multiple personalities" is a diagnosis. You are you, we value consistency and solidity, and dear god I hope you're a "good person" and not one of those "bad ones."
So this leaves us with a false dichotomy - not understanding who we really are and how to tell our story, especially to ourselves. In the case of the Walking Wounded, we don't know how to reconcile being the picture of health outwardly while struggling with chronic symptoms and illnesses at home.
But you're both. These different parts of you are context-based resources. It means you still have enough gas left in the tank to get you through what you've decided to do but with nothing left over. And your symptoms are telling you that you're overdo for maintenance. Squeaky breaks, dangling wing-mirror and all that.
Recognizing that you have multiple personalities, and that this is normal and healthy, also can lead to an immediate softening and opening of your system. Because you don't need to waste precious internal resources deciding who is "right". Your warning lights are on and you're still able to function, today. Both can be true.
The bridge is dangerous and structurally unsound. And you can drive over it and probably get to the other side safely. Hopefully.
One thing that keeps us from moving toward a place of thriving is fully letting ourselves see the precariousness of our current situation. We may tell ourselves stories that we're not sick enough yet to invest in a thorough process to restore our health. But then as you read these words, you sense viscerally how untrue that is.
So to the Walking Wounded, you are doing a phenomenal job. You are continuing to soldier on as best as you know how. All while being a "good little you", not complaining too much. Realizing that things could be worse. You just need to get on with it.
And to your wiser self, see where you can reduce load so that you can increase capacity. Like a restaurant in desperate need of renovations, are there times that you could close for necessary repairs and refreshments to be undertaken before you lose all your customers?
Part of increasing capacity could just be listening to your system more. Noticing what it's asking for. And if it's repeatedly asking for rest or to be further supported, notice this. Make a plan to give it what it needs. Before your system decides for you.
Addressing this situation now is not complaining. It is the single best thing you could do for yourself and those around you. Your future self will thank you.