One of the ways I reconcile the things I cannot do, with the things I would really like to do, is by acknowledging and accepting I am not as healthy as many others. Rarely do I use my condition as an excuse to get out of doing things, but the facts are still the facts; I do not possess the energy or the physical ability to perform certain functions. And I really struggle to volunteer and nominate myself for future commitments, because the inconsistency of my strength holds me down like a weight. But I accept it, because it is my reality. I do what I can, when I can.
Recently, I learned that an acquaintance of mine has an autoimmune disease like I do. I was shocked. More than that, I was crushed – not for her, but for me.
This woman is about as put together as they come. Beautiful, stylish, smart, energetic and positively productive and involved in everything that concerns her children. Of course, I also concluded, she is healthy.
I don’t know her well, but she’s the last person I would compare to myself, and my idea that she was healthy gave me some sort of justification as to why I am not most of the things she is. I want to be, but a lot of the time, I can’t be. A description of myself? I’m, well, not ugly, but getting old and wearing it, frumpy in the way I dress for comfort, anything but stylish, smart about things that seem not to matter to most people, ignorant about most of the things that do matter in the world. Low energy, and slow as a snail. Involved only as much as I have to be, completely not interested in reliving my teenage years, yet committed to my teenagers hearts and minds, because I can do that without using a single exhausted limb. That’s me in a nutshell.
I should have been crushed for her, but instead I felt jealousy. I have struggled with this same type of envy and jealousy of healthy people for years, because I want to have the energy of other moms. I want to be able to join them without being a constant trip hazard. I want to dress in a stylish way that isn’t dictated by my needs for stretchy comfortable material on my already restricted legs, complete with impressive adorable shoes that don’t compromise my numb, clumsy feet. I want to have the ability to learn like I used to without feeling overwhelmed. I want to have enough energy to keep up with the rest of the world. I guess I want to be as healthy as her. Ouch. “Do not compare”, a phrase and part bible verse I have taught my children for years. And here I am learning it myself. Again.
The truth is I don’t know her suffering and she doesn’t know mine. We don’t have to suffer in the same ways in order for it to qualify as suffering. I know that. And we don’t have to suffer 24/7 in order for a chronic disease to be diagnosed or justified. There is so much more I can do than many others, yet there is so much less I can do as well. “Do not compare”, I tell myself, because I know the root of comparison and jealousy has very little to do with her, and everything to do with me. Envying her stylish, graceful, elegant gait is not going to produce anything in me other than exaggerated self-consciousness of my own gait. And even if I owned her stylish clothing, frankly, I wouldn’t want to wear it.
Sometimes, we have to get honest about who we are, and who we’re not. Because otherwise, here I sit kicking myself for not being more like someone who doesn’t resemble me in the slightest, and who I know I do not want to be, yet feel like I should be. The strive to have more and be more is the most crippling human disease there is. What would life be like if I didn’t care what anyone else thought? How would that cause my choices and view of myself to be different? What if I only focused on the gifts and talents I possessed without dwelling on the gifts and talents and abilities I do not possess, only to be used on people who don’t matter all that much to me. What if not comparing was as natural as accepting the fact that I cannot fly like the birds, because I do not have wings.
So the next time you see me with my careful, somewhat wobbly, slow stride, hat or ponytail and no makeup, dressed in my baggy exercise shorts and Nike’s, know that I actually made a conscious decision to look this way, and I’m quite comfortable, yet working on confident, as I choose not to compare myself to the rest of ya’ll.