When I was 21, I was bedridden for six months. Stress-induced chronic fatigue, though the specialists at that time didn’t know what was wrong with me. They wondered if it was all in my head. I knew it wasn’t, but since the age of 9 I had highly trained doctors examine me, test my blood and find nothing “wrong.” Even the Mayo Clinic sent me home and told me to just “get in shape.” When people tell you that there’s nothing wrong, and your body definitely is feeling like you have the chronic flu, you feel ashamed. You doubt your own sanity.
Was I depressed? The psychiatrist said no.
For six months I was so exhausted I could only manage to get up, brush my teeth, shower, and go back to bed. With no diagnosis and no idea if I would ever get better, I feared what my future might look like. I was not in college. I could not work. No boyfriend. Marriage and motherhood looked like it would be impossible (who would want a woman who felt the way I did? How would I ever have the energy to have sex? You worry about these things when you are 21). I had my faith in God and that was about it. It would have to be enough. Or so I thought.
During that time, I realized that I had a choice. Resent my life or take back what little power I had and choose my attitude. Could I be ill and kind? Ill and of service? Being of service was core to my soul DNA. I come from a long line of healers, ministers, teachers, doctors, warriors, artists, farmers. Being of service to God and humanity was THE point of being here on earth. (Still is for me. Helping people is what gives me pleasure.)
So, I started to choose every morning. I had to fight negative thoughts and purposely choose to be love, be kind, be happy. I called it “fighting for my day”. But what I was really fighting for was my Self.
It was the first step to changing my life. My circumstances were such that I had grown up and was still living in an oppressive, very controlled, very overburdened home life. I had no Self. My thoughts and my faith were the ONLY things that belonged to me. As a child, I had had no power to change my circumstances. And I was afraid to speak up for my self. Being invisible was safest. The outside world looking in assumed my world was great because it appeared to be full of charity and good works and Christian ministry. Only those of us inside knew the truth.
When I was 16, one brave neurologist became indignant when he perceived what my life was like and he adamantly told me that I needed to have my own life. He confronted my parents and he fought for me. He was right and I hated him for it. Because he threatened my normal family dynamic (raised truths that no one in the family had had the courage to voice) and he put me front and center. By now, I had justified my circumstances with Christian tenets of suffering is holy, obedience is holy, being submissive is holy. Having no Self is holy.
When I was 17, my father was diagnosed with cancer and hospitalized for 10 months before he died. Nearly all of that time I spent living between a hotel attached to the hospital and the oncology ward. Still dealing with my own health issues, I took refuge in my faith and by now, a calling to ministry in Bosnia. My father died when I was 18 and instead of starting my own life, I spent the next six years at home mothering my mother. Being the adult. The only thing I knew (despite no evidence that it would ever happen) was that I was meant to go to Bosnia. God had a purpose for me there. Yes, a war-torn country felt like home to me.
When I was 22, a rheumatologist saved me. She looked at me with compassion, believed that what I was feeling was real, and promised to be there for me. And she was. Her faith and her belief in me gave me strength. She saw that I had a Self and because of her, I began to see it, too.
For the first time, I took control of my life. I enrolled in nursing school, I took photography classes, I joined the worship team at church, I began to put ME first. I made plans to go to Bosnia. I began freelancing as a journalist. And every symptom except chronic neck pain (an issue caused at birth and also from a past lifetime) disappeared.
Had it all been in my head, after all? No. It had all been in my soul and in my energy. My body rebelling against being oppressed by responsibilities no child should carry, my cells trying so hard to fight for me to have a Me. The body knows when truths of our reality are hurting us or are not aligned with our highest good or when we are lying to ourselves and trying to avoid those truths. It will manifest in how we physically feel.
Yes, there are diagnoses that are biological and unchangeable. And there are feelings in the body that also come from what we suppress and hide, from what we disallow ourselves to confront, from not giving our Selves a Self and a voice. For not fighting for our own Selves.
The Divine and guides will show up to help you, but only YOU can give yourself a sense of Self. You have to love your Self as much as you’d love someone else. Your Self is a real being (not another word for selfishness). Your Self needs attention, your own kindness, your own love, your own care. It needs to be put first in your life, so that you can be of service. When you have a strong and deeply loved Self (something I’m still only beginning to develop) you are of service.
Not by action, but by being.