I spend a lot of my life looking at blank space these days. The empty bed where my dad slept the last few days when he visited. The gap left in my rear molar when the rest of it decided to suddenly crunch its way out of my face. The empty lot where a neighborhood house was recently demolished. A whole lot of other space that just seems to need filling.
But the space that frustrates me most is the blank whiteness of my screen/page when I write two or three paragraphs and then cannot write more.
I’m not sure why this space is so oppressing and so frustrating, but it is so. Perhaps it is because the page mimics my life. I’m not sure what comes next, and I look out into this blankness, unable to discern a clear path to the next line, or paragraph, or page, or chapter in my book (both literally and proverbially). I’m faced with the blank space where once there was a whole list of opportunities not to be missed.
When my dad was visiting last week he talked about how it didn’t make sense for people to wait for “someday” to do the things they dream of, and he keeps encouraging people to have their adventures and follow those dreams now. This idea wraps around him now, adding regret to his grief. I know that my parents kept putting away money for someday, and someday didn’t come. Sickness and death came instead. Returning to the Netherlands, vacationing in warm places, going to the grandkids’ music programs and graduations and possibly even weddings—all these are lost to my mother, and many of them don’t carry the same joy they once did for my father, since they dreamed such dreams together and now if he does adventure, he does so without her at his side. I trust he will adventure, but it will always be bittersweet.
As Dad was saying all of this about not waiting and seizing the moment, I realized that many of my saved-for-someday moments were already unreachable. They have already escaped my grasp.
Chronic illness and chronic pain steal so many moments.
I already know I may never be able to afford a house, a trip outside the U.S. (much less leaving the continent), or the travel and adventure I imagined in my youth. And I also look at the possibility of finding a partner and the possibility of fulfilling work with doubt and concern, where once I wore the rose-colored glass of a healthy woman—sure that all the good things would come in time and I would one day have my dreams come true.
Now I just look forward and see that blank white space. I don’t dare dream for things that will always be out of reach. I don’t know what I might be able to accomplish in this day, much less in the rest of my lifetime. And I don’t see the possibility as much as I see the pain. The pain is hard to deny. The loss is difficult to deny also, but the pain…it fills every moment. Blank space and pain.
In recent weeks I have tried very hard to find the positives in my life, and to seek out ways to add positives. I joined a gym with a pool. I worked on my writing course a bit. I deleted negative voices filled with doubt, judgment, and general toxicity from my sphere (aka, my Facebook page). I colored mandalas. I started a new art project. I rearranged some things in my home to create a small “sanctuary” space where I can meditate and do yoga or stretching with ease. I did all the good things.
And yesterday, after writing and swimming and leaving my house and getting some sun and having a massage and creating and doing all the good, I couldn’t move. Don’t misunderstand and think that I did all the good in one great motion, and that I overexerted myself into pain. That is not the case. Instead, I did all the things that are good for me, in moderation and over some length of time. I did all the things that should, according to the experts, be helpful and good. And I ended up in tears and debating a trip to the emergency department in the night.
And then, in a painkiller plus muscle relaxer plus anti-inflammatory plus alcohol state of acceptance (which allowed me to stop considering the emergency room), I realized that I was being foolish in the sense that I was seeking to win a fight with my illness. It isn’t uncommon for people to call themselves “warriors” or “fighters” in the sense that they fight their symptoms and their illness. I think it makes us feel better to believe that we can win. But my chronic illness can’t be beaten to death without beating me to death, I suppose. And that doesn’t seem like a good end to my story.
I think that my story should end with good and gratitude and love and joy and peace. That is what I want to fill that blank space. I don’t want to fill it with tales of fighting and losing and fighting and losing and fighting and losing and then dying. I want to fill it with laughter and hugs and a full heart and mind and spirit. And deep down, I know that means accepting pain and living with it, not fighting against it. The warrior mentality isn’t one that I can easily rid myself of….Wonder Woman covers my desk and my walls and my coffee mugs. And some of that warrior is still needed to accomplish life—to get out of bed and to stretch and to swim and to eat greens and to figure out a way to lower the cable bill while still accessing the next season of Game of Thrones on HBO, even when those things feel impossible. But, some of that warring needs to cease. Fighting to write more or write faster, fighting to open that roasted red pepper jar that my hand isn’t strong enough to twist loose, fighting to hold onto any “American Dream” that still assaults me every time I see a realty advertisement, fighting to find love instead of letting it alight upon my life with beauty and grace—these wars need to end.
The thing about that blank space that we all need to recognize and embrace, is that it is blank. It isn’t filled with our fears and doubts or our dreams and successes until we put them there. Too often I let other people write my narrative, or I accept the narrative I think “should” be mine according to the socialization and assimilation that surrounds me. What would happen if I embraced that white space on today’s page, and I accepted that whatever is written is mine to write? At the end of the day, I write my own narrative. My story is mine. And I don’t need to be the warrior who overcomes her pain to run that marathon she wanted to run 20 years ago. I can be the lover and the peacemaker and the best-selling author and the philosopher just as easily, and with just as much success and greatness. Fighting has sort of been glorified for us, in American society (and others), as though the story need be one of overcoming the obstacles and working against all odds in order to be good and inspiring, but I am beginning to see my story more as one of accepting that the mountain in front of us needn’t always be there to be climbed. It can be there to look at and enjoy, and then we can hop in the car and drive around that mountain. We don’t need to kill ourselves trying to do what society calls success. We can rename success. We can begin to accept or deny challenges, based on what we want to accomplish and love and seek to add to our story.
I won’t be running any marathon. I will hopefully continue to swim until 10 laps doesn’t hurt me anymore, but I won’t fight to get in all 10 every time I swim. I can accept 4 laps for today. And I can accept 4 laps forever and call that success if I recognize at some point that my body will never make 10. Goals can change. I don’t need to fight for something that hurts me. I can just change my expectations and accept my limitations. I may still buy a house someday. I may still marry a lovely person and share life with him or her. I might not. But that won’t mean that my story is one of failure, because I am beginning to recognize that I write the ending, and if I believe that love and joy are the end goal, then there are a million roads I can take and still be the heroine of my story. The blank space doesn’t need to frighten and frustrate and oppress, because it doesn’t need to be filled with fighting a losing battle.
I’m going to fill my space with wins. I’m going to fill my space with choosing acceptance. I’m going to fill my space with the knowledge that my disease affects me, but doesn’t own me. I’m going to fill my space with loving others. I’m going to fill my space with loving myself. I’m going to fill myself with reorganizing the way I think of success and failure. I’m going to fill my space with things I enjoy, whenever possible. I’m going to fill it with beauty and grace and love and peace as often as I can. I’m going to write my story as an adventure story with a happy ending, no matter that much of society would consider a woman who spends her days in pain and doesn’t overcome that pain a crappy story. It isn’t theirs to write. It is mine.
Don’t fear the blank space. Embrace it. Fill it and mold it and shape it and create it any way you choose. It is yours. And whatever your story may become, I know that I would love to hear it, and to share mine with you. (I guess this post already begins to share mine with you.) Let’s write our own narratives and share them with one another and with the world. Let’s create a space where, no matter the circumstances of your life, your story is validated and appreciated. Wouldn’t that be the most beautiful of endings? Wouldn’t that be the best possible use of blank space?