Yesterday I did a thing that hasn’t been done in years: I forgot to put my medication in my bag when I left the house.
Those who are close to me know that I take a ton of pills and I am taking them what seems like all the time. I have five alarms set for medications, and in the middle of a conversation I will haul out my pill container and some water and take drugs, or I will stop walking and lean against a wall somewhere in the city to haul out my pill container and some water and take drugs, or I will haul out my pill container and attempt to create more saliva and swallow drugs without water because I forgot
My medication alarm just went off, so I stopped mid-sentence and went to find my pill container and a beverage and took some drugs. I think you get the picture.
But yesterday, when the alarm went off on the bus, and I silenced it and opened up the zipper pouch on the front of my backpack to get out my pills, they weren’t there.
“No problem”, I think. I have an emergency backup container in my bag, just in case I forget my medications. And I unzip the bag and find the inside pocket where the emergency backup drugs are kept. They aren’t there.
Moments later I realize that the girl across from me on the bus thinks I am a crazed lunatic, as I frantically zip and unzip and search and search and pull out toothbrush and wallet and keys and pens and all sorts of things while I dig for what must be there. It has to be there. I have to have pills!
As I see the look that girl is giving me, I slowly breathe in and out, focusing on the moment, and bring myself back to a state of calm. I put all the things back in the bag, and I accept the horrifying idea that the meds are not with me, and I alight at the stop where I am meeting my friend for our monthly shopping event. He assists me with one big shopping trip each month, because it is very difficult to access fresh foods near my home, and carrying groceries on the bus is challenging and exhausting. And when I say assists, I mean I point to things I need and he puts them in the cart for me, pushes the cart through the store for me, keeps track of the costs on the calculator so I don’t go over budget, puts all the groceries on the conveyor belt, loads the groceries into the car, drives me home, and carries all the groceries up the stairs and into the kitchen. If he were religious he would be a saint.
He was a few minutes behind me in arriving at the store, so I started pushing an empty cart through the housewares section, where I knew there was little I could afford to purchase and wouldn’t likely need assistance. I was basically browsing until he arrived. And when he did, I told him, with a frightened look on my face, that I had done the dumbest thing ever, and not brought my pills. In response he did all the normal shopping things for me, and made me sit while he loaded the car, and refused to let me carry anything heavier than some chips and bread up the stairs, because he knew my pain was increasing with every moment away from those drugs. Did I mention he is saint-like? He really is.
And he was right to make me sit and not let me overwhelm my body with the tasks it could not and should not attempt. And he was right that the pain kept increasing by the minute. It is the worst and most pain I have endured in a long time. And since I usually live with pain that is probably about a 6 or 8 of 10 daily, that is saying something significant.
But there is another thing, besides the pain, that was significant. As the pain increased, so did the knowledge that my pain without medication would always be that severe. The knowledge that I am feeling ten times less pain with proper medication than I otherwise would experience kept entering my mind. And then I thought about the difference in my life this year as opposed to last year around the same time. I am SO much better than I was. I have much less pain, and I have greater strength and range of motion than I had last year. I have much stronger doses and more pills than before, which often annoys me, but those pills are staving off debilitating disease and helping me to feel more human and more active and more happy and more balanced than I was a year ago. The contrast between Christy on drugs and Christy without drugs was so stark that it could not be overlooked.
In that moment, I knew how much worse my life could be—how much worse it was, not long ago. And I became very thankful for those few hours without medication and the lessons they were teaching.
It is difficult, when your life includes chronic suffering, to keep a positive outlook all of the time. It is lonely, and painful, and depressing, and challenging, and anger inducing, and a great loss, and it just makes all of life seem tainted. The greyness hangs over your every experience, like fog along the water. You can walk through it, but it doesn’t lift. The grey is always surrounding you.
But yesterday, I grasped the difference between the grey and the black—the haze instead of total darkness. And I became grateful for the grey.
That isn’t meant to sound depressing or sad. It is meant to express that whatever my situation may be, it could likely always be worse. And that is a good thing for even those who are not suffering, or for those on the brink of death, to remember. There is always someone experiencing life less comfortably than we are. We always have something for which we can be grateful.
The same friend that assists me with my shopping gives me a very hard time about beginning to celebrate and decorate for Christmas long before Thanksgiving Day. And I often tell him that I practice gratitude each day, so I don’t need a special day for it … and I love the heck out of Christmas, because it just makes me think of all the joy and generosity of the season. But when I practice that gratitude every day it can become a rote practice of naming off things that are always there, and sometimes the depth of gratitude isn’t reached on all of those days.
Yesterday taught me that depth of gratitude. It showed me how much better life is, even when it is a very difficult life, than I sometimes acknowledge. It showed me that some pain is better than all the pain. It let me see how far I have come, instead of focusing on how far I still have to travel on this journey.
It seems odd that pain would offer me joy. But in some ways the pain I suffer is a gift—opening my eyes to what I might not see if I were flying through life to get to my job and my meetings and my kid’s soccer game. Pain offers me opportunity to consider other’s sufferings with a broader perspective. Pain gives me time to think about and to learn and to ponder what I otherwise might not. Pain sends me the chance to ask for help and to accept the generosity of others, and to let go of the notions that pushing harder and trying harder and working harder will get you to whatever goals you might seek. Pain puts me in a space where I cannot be in control, so I need to learn to release and to let be. Pain heals my spirit in some ways, even while it breaks my body, and makes me angry, and causes me to struggle.
It is interesting that I use grey to describe the way that suffering lingers. I was taught to think in black and white when I was younger. There was good and there was bad. Any sort of concept of middle ground was not introduced until I was much older. And at times I wish that it were simple to see the difference between the good and the bad and to stick to one side or the other. But life doesn’t work that way.
I am reminded of a bit of Harry Potter where Sirius tells Harry that we all have some dark and some light in us. We aren’t just good or just bad, and there aren’t clear categories of black and white. We are all a sort of mixture of elements, and some things and thoughts and actions about us are less desirable and some are more so, but none of us is completely positive or completely negative. We are an assemblage of protons, neutrons, and electrons. We have both positive and negative. We are meant to be both. And life is meant to be both. And mixing white and black gives you grey.
My life is grey.
My choices are grey. My words are grey. My intentions are grey. My feelings are grey. My actions are grey.
Some of my life is exquisitely perfect, and some of it is as dark as dark can be. I need to hold and honor and examine and express both dark and light. We all must, in some sense. We are all living in the grey. It is inescapable.
Yesterday, I saw the light in what is dark. Yesterday I remembered to view things from both the positive and the negative—and sometimes both simultaneously.
Yesterday I embraced the grey.