Can I fast now with the commitment and passion that were mine before the migraines changed so much in my life?
That is the question I posed at the end of my previous post, in which I shared about Isaiah 58: 6-12 and how those verses had guided my life so completely - until, that is, a year ago. January 2010 is when I left my much-loved work at Miriam's House because of the effects of chronic, intractable migraines.
For those of us living with chronic pain, our passions and activities and life efforts become things of memory: still important, yet left behind. It's easy to become bitter, depressed, and to feel useless and ineffective. What drove our work and gave our lives meaning has been stripped away. More specifically, the active aspect of it has been stripped away, but, cruelly, not the passion for it. So we are left with hearts and spirits that continue to yearn for our work even though we are unable to pursue it.
This is a reality of our lives. I state it as plain fact, not for pity or self-pity. It is so important to acknowledge the facts of one's life because that is a perquisite for moving beyond them when the time comes. The balance is a delicate one, the line a fine one. We find ourselves all too easily indulging in self-pity. But that is not a reason to avoid it, that is a reason to practice maintaining that balance, walking that line. We practice facing with simplicity and clarity the facts of our lives. We do so with the emotions that arise as well.
For me, this means that I must both acknowledge the passion I have for being immediately and compassionately connected with the disenfranchised of our society and prepare to move beyond it because it is, for now, an impossible passion to fulfill. This is hard to do: the emotions - grief, anger, regret - are readily present. Frankly, I would rather not feel them. Yet I know that to stuff them away or otherwise deny them is to place myself in a spiritual purgatory that at best represents stagnation, at worst, casting myself as a victim and refusing to take responsibility for my life.
Here is where compassion enters in. Can I offer to myself the same compassionate understanding that I tried to offer the women of Miriam's House? I am helped in this practice by a wonderful book I have just read,which will be the subject of my next series of posts: How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide For the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers, by Toni Bernhard.
For now, my work is to remain compassionately present to the grieving, anger and regret I feel when I cast the inward glance. During the past year, when I thought I would be healing and returning to the work I love, I have only found more of the same pain, restrictions and inactivity. This is a new level of grieving that was not done 12 months ago when I had just left my job. It is not quick work, it follows no schedule. It is unevenly spattered with willingness, reluctance, compassion and impatience. Yet it is the work that is mine to do today and in this moment. There is no sense in focusing on outcomes and results, however tempting that may be - it is a lying temptation that promises relief but really only prolongs the agony of denial.
This is my fast for now. May I accept it with grace and compassion.
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Carol D. Marsh
- With a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction degree (Goucher College, August 2014), I am looking at a new phase in my life. From 1992 to 2009, I served as Founding Executive Director of Miriam's House, a residence for homeless women living with AIDS. I left this position when Chronic Migraine Disease overtook my ability to do my job. Now I hope that a writing career will both accommodate the migraines and give me a creative, productive outlet. And soon, September 4, I will launch my Inkshares author page in a bid to hit the 1,000 pre-order goal in 90 days. The book I want to publish is "Nowhere Else I Want to Be," a memoir of ten of my years at Miriam's House.