“I suppose sooner or later in the life of everyone comes a moment of trial. We all of us have our particular devil who rides us and torments us, and we must give battle in the end.” ~
*Long read ahead. Go grab a cuppa.
Someone, a friend (or maybe not), send me a long and well-meaning (or maybe not) message yesterday asking why I so publicly explained my current health situation in my latest blog post, including mentioning that I suffer from incontinence AND had posted less than flattering images of myself that made me look ‘sick and drained and old’. Apparently, you shouldn’t talk about ‘body failure’ so openly. They suggested that it was ‘harming my image and the potential for me to build my business.’ Finally, they added that my life was ’embarrassing and overly drama-filled, and maybe I should keep those details to myself’. In the midst of all their advice, they neglected to ask me how I was.
I was going to write them a long message back but instead, I’m going to reply here by way of a recent experience:
Dear YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE BUT I WON’T PUBLICALLY NAME YOU!
The other morning Ben and I needed to visit an office supplies store, but when we arrived at our destination the store had moved. It was only a few blocks away, and to navigate to the new address was straightforward, but for some strange reason as we exited the carpark Ben ducked down a side street and suddenly we were travelling down a rabbit warren of narrow suburban lanes instead of using the main roads.
‘Why are we going this way?’ I asked. ‘This is a dumb way.’
‘I dunno. Felt like it I guess,’ said Ben.
Who was I to argue? I haven’t been able to drive for months. Ben could drive there any route he chose.
When we slowed to take a corner I glanced up a street that ran off the one we were on. My vision is limited right now but of my mouth tumbled the words ‘Stop the car’.
‘Why?’ asked Ben, pulling to a halt.
I pointed. ‘There’. And even though I couldn’t see more than a blur I knew it was someone in trouble. That’s one of the gifts of being psychic.
Ben reversed and we drove fifty metres down another street. There on the sloping front lawn a middle-aged woman was lying awkwardly, half across her driveway, with the bulk of her body angled down the slope and her legs bent uphill behind her. Her handbag and car keys were strewn across the ground.
Ben put the window down and asked calmly, ‘Are you okay?’
‘I’m a bit stuck,’ the lady responded as she waved one arm in a feeble attempt to right herself.
We jumped out of the car and hurried over. As I gathered her fallen things Ben helped her to a sitting position and then we both helped her to her feet. Since my fiftieth birthday in 2017 I now feel every single emotion other people are holding within them as viscerally as if those emotions were mine. This woman’s story unfolded within my own body – this was the first major fall the woman had experienced and she had been lying on the ground for some time, alone and unable to reach her phone or to get herself back up again. It was terrifying for her, and worse, it had suddenly made real the truth of her health situation and diminishing capacities. I could feel the shame and embarrassment in her, as well as the shock.
The woman told us she had Parkinson’s. She was dazed and shaking but kept insisting she was fine and asked to be helped to her car. It was only when Ben let go of her and I saw his hands were covered in blood that we managed to convince her to go back inside her home and look after herself. She’d taken off quite a bit of skin, and her scrapes and bumps looked like they would become painful bruises later. She wouldn’t let us call anyone, and she was embarrassed and upset. I totally understood. The thing she’d been dreading had happened. She’d fallen, and been left stuck and helpless. Once upon a time if that had been me I would have waved everyone off as fast as I could too!
Chronic and terminal illnesses eventually lead us down paths we may never have imagined taking. But as a species we are resilient. We adapt. Life is about making the best of what we’ve got.
Have you ever been in that place, Dear ____________? That place of wanting to hold on to something that is no longer true for you? That place of wanting to not draw attention to yourself, of not wanting to admit a situation or a problem or something else that you perceive would make you somehow diminished in the eyes of others? It’s so human. It just swells my heart with compassion and pricks tears in my eyes.
There is one thing chronic illness has taught me. We’re all fragile. Poor health, accidents, illness and misfortune can strike any of us, at any time, at any age. Statistics show that one in four adults has some form of disability, physical or mental illness or chronic pain that limits our ability to function and cope with the activities of daily life.
One in four.
One in four of us suffers from diabetes or cancer or anxiety or pain or depression or incontinence or irritable bowel or restricted movement or chronic fatigue or OCD or chronic insomnia or some weird genetic thing or bullying or abuse or an occupational injury or… the list is endless. If it’s not us it’s someone we know. Maybe you’re not the sufferer but you live with that person. Care for that person.
Right now I am that one in four. Why should I hide that? It’s not all of me but it is part of me. And I refuse to hide that because if I do it means I am endorsing a world that says we should only show ourselves if we are perfect or at least ‘unoffensive’ to others.
And what does it say about you if you think that people like me should only show the ‘better aspects’ of our lives? Are you saying that I am not worthy to be out in the world if I wear a diaper or need a cane or someone to cut up my food or drive me places?
One in four, Dear _________________. One in four.
One day, that could so easily be you. Or your partner. Or your child.
This is what I believe – we need to embrace the truth of where we are at, without shame, embarrassment or apology. The ‘Instagram Life’ is a lie, and it puts ridiculous pressure on us to be something that so few people are or are with any kind of consistency; young, rich, thin, shredded, beautiful, stylish, completely together, popular, loved by a wide and ‘normal’ circle of family and friends, well travelled, eating amazing meals at fabulous places and healthy and well-balanced inside and out – with never a hint of adversity.
As to the fact that my life is at times ‘overly drama-filled’, my darling friend Carly-Jay Metcalfe who lives with Cystic Fibrosis responded with her own hard-won insights on my Facebook page, and I’ll include her post here in full:
Can I just say that as a person with a terminal illness, I don’t think people who are unaffected by chronic or terminal conditions can understand that with each step forward, it’s usually four steps back. It’s unrelenting and just because you say you’re on the road to recovery, does not mean you’re necessarily ‘better’. I’m glad you’re being gentle on yourself, Nic. I just wish everyone’s expectations were a little more realistic.
When I think of Carly-Jay I don’t think Cystic Fibrosis. I think poet, writer, aunt to my dogs, hilarious, soulful friend. When I think of myself I don’t think illness, I think of all the dreams that reside in my heart. We are not our illnesses or our frailties. We can live and thrive despite any of that. And we never need be defined or diminished by them. Does illness impact our lives and sometimes the lives of others? Sure. It’s just how it is.
What matters is who a person is on a soul level. Bodies age, fade, fail. But our souls are an eternal brightness. So, who are you in your heart? Who are you in the way you act in the world? Who you are as you live by your values? What are your dreams? Your relationships? Your interests? Your knowledge? Where can your passion take you?
Dear ____________ , I guarantee you that our world is held up and held together by people who are limping along in life doing the best that they can, sharing their ideas and gifts and love and care even though they face their own personal adversities.
I’ve been sharing my vulnerabilities since I first started blogging, and that’s the way I shall continue.
I hope no hardship ever befalls you but statistically, things are not on your side. ‘Life is suffering’ is what the Buddha said, and from my experience that will be true for everyone at some stage. That won’t mean you have failed. It will mean that you are human. If your road gets hard I’ll hold your hand as we navigate the bumpy bits together. To think that we need to be alone in our adversity is a myth perpetrated by people like you. Let’s end that way of thinking. It serves no-one.
Much love, Nicole ❤ xx