There are certain things a 37-year-old woman should be able to do without suffering physical pain. Push her daughter on the swing, for example. Or unscrew the lid of a jelly jar.
My body isn’t operating on “should be able to” these days. After months of intermittent pouts, it’s in some kind of all-out tantrum. I suspect it began three summers ago, the morning I woke up with a mysterious bug bite. It covered half my leg and looked oddly like a bulls-eye.
While I can’t shout “Lyme” with diagnostic certainty, I’m 99% certain some long-dead tick is to blame for most of my discomfort. But the diagnosis doesn’t really matter. Anyone who’s dealt with chronic pain or illness will tell you the battle is as much (or more) about mind and spirit as it is about body.
Mind and spirit are battle grounds I’ve walked. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks…even years after the worst of them I have a hard time writing about those days. But I’m going to write anyway, because there are answers there I need to remember.
See, now that my body hurts, my spirit has started to shrivel like a prune. I’ve been losing this present fight for peace not because of some physical disease, but because I’ve let my mind go to places that suck me dry. Places like:
I’ve already confessed that I’m a hypochondriac. What’s a hypochondriac do with real, live illness? Picture a kid in a candy store, except the opposite. My brain wants to play ping-pong with every what-if, and I automatically assume the worst case scenario at the onset of every symptom. And what good comes of that? As Corrie ten Boom so wisely stated, “Worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” Worry = not helpful.
On the flip side, when I’m not feeling particularly anxious, or when I’m having a “good day,” it’s easy to pretend nothing is out of balance. At the height of hypochondria I longed for the ability to be flippant about my health. The irony is, it’s possible to be both – overanxious and careless. Fretting doesn’t help, but burying my head in the sand is just prolonging the inevitable. Eventually I have to deal with the culprit, whether it be physical (Lyme, weight gain, tooth decay), mental/emotional (depression, anxiety, obsession), or spiritual (doubt, unforgiveness, pride). Denial = not helpful.
Why can’t I be healthy like my friends? Why is something always getting in the way of feeling good/happy/content? Clearly these questions spring from a warped perspective, but that’s what self-pity is: a lens that distorts reality. Begrudging other people their happiness while swallowing the lie that I’m the only poor schmuck in pain isn’t just sad, it’s selfish. Self-pity = not helpful.
4. The Past
Ah, those good old days, when my kids were sweet little cherubs who took naps, and I had a working metabolism. What about the newlywed years of youthful naivete, when it was all romance, slow walks, and ice cream bought with couch pennies? If I could only go back and…. Yeah, grass-is-greener dreams always overlook the past’s less idyllic moments, but they sure are effective at stealing joy from the present. Living in the past = not helpful.
I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore…Or Can I?
It’s easy to point a finger at thought patterns and label them unhealthy, but a little trickier to switch gears and pursue proactive counter moves. If worry isn’t helpful, how do we fight it? If we can’t live in the past, the present kind of sucks, and the future is a scary blob of uncertainty, where do we find hope and joy?
To answer these questions, I’ve had to dig into my reserves and recall lessons I learned (and am still learning) through my years-long battle with anxiety and depression. Over the next few posts, I’ll be sharing my go-to strategies for keeping fear (or depression, or discouragement) under control and recapturing joy when life seems dark and heavy.
Do you have any wisdom to share on the topic? What robs you of peace and joy? Have you identified unhealthy habits that make your fears and frustrations worse? How about effective means of fighting them? I’d love your input, not just as a blogger but as a fellow fighter. We’re all learning together!