Today I am not happy, not excited, not hopeful. I'm worried. Maybe even afraid. And as I sat in meditation this morning unable to stop the tumbling thoughts about tomorrow's treatment and its possible effects, I wondered if I really wanted to be better, after all. Some of the fears made a lot of sense. Until they didn't:
- The treatment might not work -- my neurologist isn't very optimistic, given my history;
- Those needles poking into the back of my head and being maneuvered around will hurt;
- There's a chance of a bad reaction to the injections;
- If it doesn't work, I'll be really disappointed;
- If it does work, I'll be ... scared.
The thought shocked me right out of my meditative reflection. What kind of web was I caught up in?
|Photo by William Marsh|
It wasn't easy to sit with then and it's not easy to admit now. But I believe that self-awareness and honesty are essential to healing of any sort. And it's incumbent upon me to explore the strange phenomenon of fearing getting well, first for myself and second for any of my readers that may be helped by knowing they're not alone.
(Warning -- this is going to be a longer post than usual.)
I remember learning in college about fear of failure and fear of success. The first seems normal, the second, weird. But it's real and there are lots of articles about it, mostly how to understand and get over it.
When I Googled "fear of health" and "fear of getting better," I found forums and support sites for people with various mental illnesses who needed to talk about their fear. I found one blog post about the fear of getting well after years of long-term physical disability and pain. But I found nothing (at least on Google) to indicate the existence of professional study or understanding of this phenomenon. Yet people are worried about it, and many express shame and embarrassment about their feelings. Which seems another reason to write this post.
As I sit here struggling with my feelings, a few reasons for them -- the ones that are easy to admit and talk about -- pop up quickly:
- I can't get past thinking about how tired I always am, how I need a nap almost every day and a good eight hours of sleep as well. As nonsensical as it sounds, I worry about getting enough rest if the migraines go away. I won't have them as an excuse any more.
- I'll graduate this weekend with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction (Goucher College, a wonderful program). I'm glad and excited. But common wisdom says you don't make a living as a writer. You have to have a day job. I haven't been in the work force since the end of 2009 and I'll be sixty next spring. Even if I do get well enough to work, who will hire me?
- I've learned how to live as a disabled person, my whole life is structured around coping and managing and doing-in-spite-of. I afraid I don't know any longer how to live as an able person. Maybe it's easier to stay ill.
- I'm the one people admire for getting a degree despite the constant pain. What's there to admire if the pain goes away?
- Who am I if the pain goes away?
Somehow, those questions are socially acceptable: we would all freak out if primary ways we identify ourselves -- talent and career -- were snatched from us. It makes sense. Not so freaking out about getting healthy, of giving up the identity we've developed during the long and difficult months and years of ill health.
Yet it's surely true that we've invested a lot of time, heart, spirit and body into learning how to be ill as well as we can. And looked in this way, doesn't it make sense that losing that identity would cause concern?
I have no magic answers. I just know fear of getting well is real for me and for other people out there, although shame makes us want to hide it.
Life has taught me to bring what's hidden into the light. So consider this post an attempt to shed a bit of light on a reality we hide: that we can become so identified with our mental or physical illness and all we've done -- all the hard work, the difficult changes we've negotiated and the stamina we've developed, as well as resulting spiritual and emotional growth -- that we can actually fear losing it.
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