Monday, January 11, 2010

Holding On

Seven years since the chronic fatigue started, and I'm tired of being sick.

It's better than it used to be, but still, I'm tired of it. At least now I can hold a normal conversation almost all of the time and I can think clearly most of the time, but still, I'm tired of it. I still can't do the many of the things I love most, except on my best days, and I'm tired of it. A couple of years ago, it felt like I was headed towards feeling 'normal,' but then it got worse again - a lot worse. And I'm tired of it. I'm tired of not being the person my husband married. I'm tired of not being able to live the life I want. And maybe, just maybe, I'm getting to the place where I'm tired of being tired of it.

Now, my body really does feel tired, there's not much energy, and it aches. My brain still feels pretty foggy some of the time. These are observations, the way it is.

But let's look at the thought, "I'm tired of it." I've been saying that to myself on a regular basis for about a year and a half, since I got worse after feeling better. "I'm tired of it" says I am tired of feeling tired. It's a thought and a feeling about a situation, an evaluation about the way it is in my life. It's a thought I decided to buy into and to feel justified in holding onto. My bad. Because now, I don't just have this situation, this body that doesn't feel very good a lot of the time, but now I've multiplied the difficulty and the misery from it by many times. I've let myself become caught by that thought and I've bought into it as my reality. And the place where that thought is true is deep and dark, and just no fun at all. It's hell; self-created suffering at its finest. And now, I'm getting tired of that. My good.

Because the truth of the matter is that I don't have to be caught, I don't have to buy into it, and I don't have to have "I'm tired of it" as my reality. Oh, there will probably always be times when I have that thought, times when I sink back into that particular hell, for as long as this situation, this illness lasts. But it doesn't have to hold me, define me, perpetuate itself.

What I'm most embarrassed about here is that I've known this the whole time, for a year and a half. I've known that I am creating my own suffering and I've still kept at it. Now, that sounds really dumb, doesn't it? As human beings, we unconsciously experience this kind of thing all the time. One of the benefits of practicing mindfulness is that we start to see our habitual thoughts, reactions, feelings that create our own suffering, and that is a wonderful thing, because then that kind of suffering isn't inevitable anymore. If we are aware of it, we can choose to drop it and feel better, or to continue to hold onto it and keep feeling miserable. Now, it's a choice. Anybody can see it's a no-brainer.

Let's not forget that I've also been judging myself for being stuck - after all, I've been doing this mindfulness thing for a long time now, I should know better! Predictably, I have been somewhat less aware of this than the fact of being stuck. Also predictably, this magnifies the suffering and results in being even more stuck.

So why would I, why would anyone choose to hold onto a thought, feeling, or belief that they know is harmful? Since I'm a therapist, I can come up with all kinds of ideas about that related to psychology, childhood experience, etc. It happens all the time; how many times have I watched clients make this choice while I looked on, mystified and sad? Consciously choosing to hold onto something that causes us to suffer means that letting go of it would require giving up something more dear to us than feeling better: usually it's some part of our identity, some deeply held belief about who we are; something we are completely unaware of but cling to desperately.

Mindful practice gets us here, but fortunately, it is also the way through. If we keep at it, work to remain open, keep coming back, over and over, to what is present, this thought, this feeling, still stuck, over and over, then eventually it gets old, we get tired of holding on. Like an old record with a scratch that causes it to repeat the same segment of the same song over and over, we eventually get sick of it. And then we hit this point, the place where we just can't stand to hold onto it anymore, but we can't let go either. It's a tough place, and the fear comes up and confusion and lots of thoughts and feelings. It can be really uncomfortable. But it's a wonderful place too, because of the possibility in it. It's where we have to hold these two impossibilities at the same time, and the only way out of it involves taking a leap into the unknown.

So, this is where I am now. I recognize this process because I've been here before, many times, and seen many others here too. I'm practicing being aware of this, the sensations, feelings, thoughts, the process. Leaning into it, holding it all, with kindness, and now, without judgment. It's hard sometimes, really hard. I don't know what's next. I don't know how long I'll be in this place. I just don't know anything. But I'm here, and for just this moment, it's really okay.


  1. I had a dream...I was in an old car driving through muddy muck, slowing down and struggling and eventually coming to a stop. I see another car, this one abandoned, and then a newer car with a young mother & children zoom by and she admonishes me to get out of her way "she has places to go things to do". The thought occurs to me that I am stuck. STUCK STUCK STUCK I regard my dreams as divine help. I feel stuck, no mystery here. Not only has our income dried up, I am reminded almost daily that my liver still battles the HCV, with fatigue, weakness, pain. I am tired of it all, and I am tired of being tired. I say I give up, but that doesn't feel good, I say I surrender, but that's a lie because there is no peace in my statement. Truth is I feel defeated and crushed by life circumstances right now. There is a small place where I realize that this too shall pass, change. Sitting with all this makes me feel vulnerable. I ask how do I get unstuck? How do I move forward? I am so tired of being tired of it and so want to be happy and grateful that I will do anything to change my perspective. And so I wait and anticipate that the answer will come. There is a way out, but I'm afraid I will have to get out of the old car and get my feet muddy.

  2. Thank you for sharing this; I know it comes from your heart. I totally get the dream.

    Here's the thought that came up for me re: getting out of the car - "Will it kill us to get our feet muddy?" Then the answer: YES. I don't like it either. Now I have this mental picture of the two of us standing knee-deep in (and covered with) black, oozy muck, hugging and crying our eyes out. Or are we laughing? I love you, friend.