I am scheduled for a mammogram later today. I’ve spent about the last 2 hours debating with myself about whether I do or do not wish to reschedule that appointment.
I can make it.
But I don’t want to worry about it.
But I feel well enough.
No, I don’t feel well.
But I could push through it.
But my head hurts already, and I think I may be getting sick.
But maybe if I just wait a bit I will feel better.
Except I need to hop in the shower and wash off all of the lotions and deodorants and such from yesterday.
I don’t have the energy for that.
Right. You don’t.
Okay, I will reschedule.
But it takes forever to get in again, and I have surgery coming up in a few weeks, and then I won’t be able to get out and do it.
This isn’t an event that has great significance. I get a mammogram every year, and the past several years of having them done, plus multiple ultrasounds and an MRI, have left my doctors with some confidence that the abnormal mass in my left breast is not cancer. So, it isn’t like I NEED to be there today.
But I feel like I am always cancelling things.
It is true. It is really hard to know your boundaries with fibromyalgia. My body used to tell me in real-time what it needed. Now it can take hours, days, and even weeks for my body to express that I have overdone it, and that my muscles and joints and brain function are not going to cooperate with my plans for the day, or the week, or the rest of my life.
This disease cancels life. Not just the annoying little appointments that we all feel like putting off, but the good and beautiful things too. Time with friends, celebrating with family, going to events … they are all cancelled.
Recently I created a wish list on Amazon of things that I would love to have to make my life easier and to keep me functioning at a higher capacity. Even those needs had to be cancelled, because life throws curve balls and supports I usually depend on were removed, and my financial situation is dire. I’ve had to ask people to support my fundraiser instead and to offer money to pay the bills and keep me alive.
It isn’t really a bad thing to shift focus in that manner. Obviously, I consider basic needs of tantamount importance, and I am more than grateful for anything and everything that is offered me.
But I feel like even my expectations for living have been cancelled.
And I mean living is the expectation, not that I expected to live with certain comforts. I am afraid my life might be cancelled.
This is probably difficult for people to grasp. And I don’t blame anyone for not understanding the depth of my suffering in this moment, or the challenges that I face, or the need that I experience. I would not have been able to grasp any of that until the last few years happened, and disease became my life, in some sense.
And cancelling became the way I approach life.
I was watching a video of Brene Brown discussing trust the other day. I only got through half of it because I needed to get on the bus and get to yet another appointment (one I couldn’t easily reschedule). But one of the key components of trust that she talks about in the video is reliability. She posits that reliability is doing what you say “over and over and over”.
I am not reliable.
I say that I will do a thing, and then the thing is cancelled, or rescheduled, or abandoned because I cannot do it. My body and my mind won’t let me do it, so it isn’t always my fault, or demonstrative of my personal character, that I cannot follow through on what I say I will do, but the fact remains—I cannot be reliable in the way Brene Brown suggests I must be to be trustworthy.
When I started to exhibit symptoms of fibromyalgia, I had no idea that I was exhibiting symptoms of fibromyalgia. This is common. It takes five to seven years on average for people with this disease to be properly diagnosed. And because of that it is often difficult to even determine onset. But when I look back several years, and when I talk with my daughter about our history together, I realize that I was already cancelling life as early as 2007. She would ask to go to the pool, and I would say we can do that tomorrow. But when tomorrow arrived I would claim that I didn’t feel well, or that I was too tired, and we wouldn’t swim. She still resents me for cancelling all of those times. She understands now that I was in the earliest stages of my illness at that time, and that I didn’t mean to be unreliable and to become someone whose word she could not trust, but she remembers the way that she felt let down all of those times, and all the excuses I made for not following through. And that pains me, just as my physical body pains me—or maybe sometimes more.
I still cancel, and with much more frequency than I did in previous years. My disease progressed as it went undiagnosed and untreated for those years. It got worse when I moved to the Midwest from Arizona, and suddenly climate changes, lack of access to healthful organic foods, and less swimming were affecting my body without me being fully cognizant of the effects of these changes. And by the time people were taking my pain and fatigue seriously, I was on the sofa for a year and a half.
I’ve fought my way back in many ways, and I spend far less time on the sofa at this point. But the reason that I do much better at living with my illness is that I am better at setting boundaries and better and listening and anticipating my body’s reactions. Even though it doesn’t tell me in real-time that it is suffering, I can plan more effectively to make certain that I don’t overwhelm myself. Proactive scheduling, approaching life in terms of my own needs instead of the expectations of others, and being more aware of my illness and the ways it presents and affects me have helped me cancel less … in part because I try to do less.
But I still cancel. Over and over and over, I cancel.
It is difficult not to apologize for cancelling. It is difficult to accept it as a symptom of my illness and not as a mark of poor character. It is hard to feel like I can be a good person, a good friend, a good partner, or a good mother when I cannot commit to things fully and cannot be reliable.
And I wish that there was some positive spin that I could add to the end of this post—some nugget of wisdom that brings us full circle and expresses the self-awareness and growth and determination that I so love to share.
This is one thing I have not yet figured out. I still don’t have a beautiful lesson from this experience. If there is a lesson at all, it might be that I am not defined by my symptoms, but that isn’t the way I feel.
Last night I was crying to my dad, as I was telling him about crying to my dear friend Luke the night before, and saying how upsetting it was to look back on my life, and to have knowledge of all the things I have overcome and all the ways I have survived, and to think now that my own body and the illness that plagues it is that which I am unable to overcome, and the thing I may not survive. I know, in the logical sense, that my body is not killing me, but what I feel is that I won’t survive because of myself.
There isn’t a way to fight against yourself and win.
There may be a way to fight against your disease and win, but that is much easier when you are fighting a cancer, which you kill in order to save yourself, than it is when the thing that you are fighting is incorporated into your entire being. My own synapses, my own cells, are hurting me. I don’t have the luxury of separating out what harms me and what IS me. They are one.
My disease becomes my life. Hurting is my life. Confusion is my life. Cancelling is my life.
There isn’t a way around that fact. There is only acceptance of that fact. Or at least that is the way I currently view things. And I would love to view them differently, but I don’t know how.
I might still go and have my mammogram today. I might not. But either way I will continue to struggle with myself over my boundaries and my unreliability and my inability to be as I wish I were—living without constantly thinking about breaking and ruining life. Living without always considering dying. Living without worrying that I won’t make it beyond this state, or that this is how it always will be. Living without cancelling so much of my life. Living with the constant challenge of seeking to accept life as it is while simultaneously wanting to improve upon my life.
I know it is a constant process, and I know that it will always be such, and I may never arrive at a destination in which I sit and feel like I have completely accepted myself and my way of being in the world. And I think it is like that for everyone, the healthy and the sick alike. But today, in this moment, all that seems to matter is that I have, once again, fought with myself over the desire to cancel and not cancel.
I suppose that is how I must approach this fight—moment by moment. And I suppose that I will eventually start to recognize both the challenge of making it through an event and the cancelling of an event as good and helpful and right. Because each time I power through, and each time I cancel to rest, I am making a decision to do the best that I can for myself. And as long as I keep focusing on that—on what is best for my care and for my survival—I am likely choosing well. Even if my choice makes me appear unreliable.
And, at the end of this post, I have made a decision. I will reschedule my appointment and deal with the mammogram another day. Today, my spirit, and my body, and my aching legs and head all need me to rest and to care for myself by cancelling. Today, cancelling is care. Today, cancelling is good. And, at the very least, I can always claim that I am caring for myself over and over and over.