“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.”
― Madeleine L’Engle
I wasn’t going to post this. I wasn’t even going to write this. I went a whole week as a serious lifestyle blogger with a real blog. But screw that. I can’t limit myself to home decor and my favorite outfits. I will write about ice cream and my favorite books and my deep life struggles all in the same day because that’s the kind of person I am.
I’m taking part in the Be Bona Fide confessions, a movement to help people share their insecurities and weakness with one another in order to break down the deceptive walls of perfection that keep us apart. I have a lot of issues, and I could have chosen an easier thing to share. Like, “my house is always messy” or even something deeper like “I struggle with feelings of rejection” (both of which are true). But being the intense person that I am I decided to go all the way, sharing one of the most intimate struggles of my life. Here is my confession :
I battle an invisible illness that I have tried to hide.
Well, to be more accurate, three. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, depression, and anxiety.
It is a hard to be this vulnerable. Even though my blog is named Almost Put Together, I like to maintain some level of put-together-ness. And this is really pouring out my insides for the popular consumption of the internet. These are personal issues and I could have chosen to keep them personal. But I will be silent no longer because I want to bring change and hope. I want to share my story because as people raise awareness and share their battles with physical and mental illness, these illnesses become less stigmatized and more understood. As I’ve seen others write about their struggles I have been immensely encouraged.
I’ll briefly describe what each is in my life:
Chronic Fatigue is intense brain fog, muscle pain/weakness, fatigue, and about 20 other random symptoms. It makes me limit my incredibly ambitious self and schedule my days out so that I only have one or two stressful activities a week. Going to the grocery store is too much on many days. I do my makeup probably once a week. I get energy bursts and then crash if I over do it. I can’t be around new people for very long because it drains me. I take naps most days.
Depression is a numbness and physical and emotional exhaustion. Sometimes it makes me profoundly sad. At other times I just can’t feel. Sometimes all the color has been taken from life. The best description I’ve seen is it’s like drowning and seeing everyone else around you breathing fine.
Anxiety is like being unable to relax/calm down, sometimes with panic attacks. Even though I’m extroverted, meeting people causes my great anxiety these days.
Each of these struggles is very debilitating and often strip so much of myself away. But I have found ways that help me cope and keep living. I’ve been in some dark places. It has been a long a hard path and one that is not over. But I have come far and feel like I’ve reached a plateau where I can take a breath and survey the landscape.
One reason why I often try to hide my struggles is because I don’t want people to see my battles as my identity. I’m a human being, not a label. I battle illnesses that are very much a part of my life and which have helped shape the person I am. But I am not my illness. I am still a fun loving person with a life full of incredible possibilities. I am limited by my body. But I am not defeated by it.
If I could say anything to those facing similar struggles I would say this: You are not alone. You are not your illness. You are not your never completed to-do list. You are beautiful and valuable even when you can’t get out of bed. It’s ok to mourn your pain and suffering – it is real even though you don’t have it as bad as others. You are not lazy and this is not your fault. And most of all: your life isn’t over. It isn’t permanently ruined. It IS still worth living. I’m not even referring to the suicidal: I’m referring to those who have given up. Because I have been there. And it feels endless and hopeless. But it isn’t. I promise. Find a silver lining or a memory of one and hold onto it.
And my advice for those who don’t face these battles is: be incredibly grateful. Don’t waste your energy and your potential. You have such a free and beautiful life to live, and so many people would kill for what you have. Also, please remember that so many illnesses are invisible. So be kind to everyone. You can’t fully understand what others with illnesses are going through. I don’t say this to be mean. It is just a fact. Don’t try to say you understand, because you probably don’t.
Please don’t tell a depressed person, “I’ve been sad before”
Please don’t tell an anxious person “I’ve been scared before”
Please don’t tell a person with a chronic illness that leaves them perpetually fatigued “I’ve been tired before”
If you know someone with these struggles, don’t try to fix them. Just be there with love and patience and tell them how brave and lovely they are (because they don’t feel brave or lovely)….it will only make them feel more alone.
The struggles they face are not their fault. And your healthiness is an immense blessing!
I write these words not to complain. I write these words not as a victim. I write them as someone with a body that rebels because, as my husband says, my soul is too big for it. I write them as a human being with a particular kind of brokenness. Our struggles are all different and we each have our own battles to face. And these are some of mine.
I encourage you to share your struggles. You might not want to share them on the internet for the whole world to see, and that’s ok. I don’t think everyone is called to that. But beauty and strength is paradoxically tied up in sharing our vulnerability.