Life wasn’t built for fatigue. It wasn’t built for side effects. It wasn’t built for people who need pills, and shots, and special diets just to be “normal.” To put it simply, life wasn’t built for people who are chronically ill. And living in a world where you want so badly to do all the “normal person” things, where you try so hard to keep up with everyone else, and where you smile and say you’d love to have plans even though you really want to take a 4-day nap becomes exhausting.
But for so many people, even worse is the feeling that they are weak because they sat out of that soccer practice. That they aren’t as capable because you rescheduled a math test to a time when they were only 43% zombie as opposed to 64%. That they are being a bad friend by declining an invitation to dinner.
Forcing a smile, pushing through pain, and trying to do “all the things” just because you tell yourself you should be doing them is draining. But it’s even more difficult to accept the fact that sometimes, when your mind is saying yes, your body says no. And sometimes, you have to give in.
And it’s not out of laziness, or weakness, or using a disease as an excuse. I want to finish my homework, I want to go to soccer practice, I want to talk to a friend until late a night, but sometimes, I feel like I’m stuck walking through mud while everyone else is zooming past me. And that’s defeating.
However, in my zombie-like state, I tend to tell myself that the best way to deal with the tiredness, and the pain, and the defeat is to ignore it and do “all the things” anyway. But pushing your body to meet the expectations you set for yourself when it’s telling you to slow down isn’t healthy. It’s actually pretty dumb. But I and so many other people do it anyway because we can’t say no without feeling like we’ve failed. And that bothers me.
It bothers me a lot.
Why do we feel weak for taking a break? Why do we feel incapable when we take a second and step back? Why do we push ourselves until we absolutely can’t move before we say “no?”
I’ve asked myself these questions over and over again, and I’ve realized that we do these things because we are genuinely confused. We are confused as to how our brain can say “do it” and our body can say “don’t.” We don’t know which side to take. We don’t know where the balance is. We don’t know how to say no without feeling like we’ve lost.
When people are confused, they turn to the phrase “fake it till you make it.” But in the realm of chronic illness, faking it isn’t making it. Trying to keep up with everybody else while also juggling doctors and medicines and side effects and symptoms and emotions might work for a little bit, but it isn’t a long-term solution. Because while keeping may be a way of surviving, it isn’t living. Going to every practice, every social gathering, and every class isn’t worth it if you feel like crap the entire time. And forcing yourself to do everything you tell yourself you can do doesn’t make you any stronger, because, in the end, it only comes back to hurt you. Saying no to plans to take a much-needed nap doesn’t make you weak; it shows that you have accepted your limits and are willing to work with them.
Yes, there are times when you do have to get up, and go to school, and take tests, and play sports, and hang out when you feel sick and tired. But there’s a fine line between pushing yourself and hurting yourself. And if I’m being honest, even I don’t know where it lies.
Like I said before, it’s defeating to feel like your sprinting while everyone else is jogging past you. Especially because they can’t see how hard you’re working. But trying to run even faster when you know you can’t keep up isn’t how you overcome this defeat. To overcome something hard, you have to work with it. You have to accept it. You have to be content with it.
It sounds stupid to fight chronic illness by becoming “content” with it. I mean, when’s the last time you said, “wow. I am just so cool with this stomachache right now. This is great!” But ignoring your body and only listening to the voice inside your head that’s telling you to do x y and z isn’t a smart idea either. The thing is, when you accept your body and its capabilities and work with what you can do, you don’t have to fight as hard. You can take a step back, and you can just live. And that makes a big difference.
So the next time you get mad at your body for not being able to do what you want it to do, stop for a second. Take a moment to be honest with yourself. Is it safe? You don’t want a dinner outing to end in the ER. Is it realistic? Can you physically and mentally handle this activity? And most importantly, is it worth it? Is it really worth pushing your body this far, or will the consequences come back to hurt you even more? Don’t force yourself to say yes; that defeats the entire purpose of this 10+ paragraph ramble. If the answer is no, it’s no. And that’s okay.
You’re never going to be able to do everything. No one is. If you apply to 10 colleges and get in to 7, you can’t say “yes” to all of them. And if your brain wants to accomplish 12 things today and your body can only handle 8, it’s okay. But rather than feel like you’re weak, realize that you are strong, because it isn’t easy to slow down when it seems like speeding up is the only option. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible
If you get anything out of this mess of a post, I hope it would be this:
It’s defeating to have your mind say yes and your body say no. But the thing is, taking a day off doesn’t mean that you are letting your illness take control; you are only giving yourself more fuel to win your fight.