No, I didn't fall off the edge of the world. But, then, the world doesn't have edges. So you knew that. But, in case you wondered what became of me, that's what this post is about.
Ever wonder what would happen if you stopped... completely stopped? And how it would feel if the rest of the world went on turning while you stayed absolutely still? I'm not sure I wondered, but I discovered.
After three months of symptoms I partially ignored because I thought I was invincible (and also because I'm stubborn), I arrived home from work in late January and stood on my porch in a thick stupor. My brain seemed stuck. I couldn't figure out whether to first find the the house key or insert it into the lock. That inability to think sequentially was happening with regularity when I was tired, but never had so seriously impeded daily functioning. When I finally figured out how to get into my house, I collapsed into bed. Slept a few hours, then woke. A strange helplessness gripped me even before I tried to stand... and realized I couldn't.
The next few days are strange and blurry, even to memory. My friend Julie and her husband Laverne "happened" to be in the area for the weekend. Julie helped me navigate decisions. How do you orchestrate a radical life change when you're so weak you can't think? And have no idea what to expect of the future, as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome seems to impose different limitations on everyone? I'll tell you how. You rely on your people because you have no other choice. Carla brought food, which had suddenly become a matter of survival. I'd crawl to the kitchen, slowly make food, eat it, then feel more depleted than before. The expenditure of energy to make meals just seemed infinitely greater than the energy replaced by having ingested it. Julie sat with me in the doctor's office and let me lay my head on her shoulder because I didn't have the energy to hold my head up. Just having her there gave me strength. I hate doctors and avoid them at all costs. And I knew I had CFS and didn't want blood tests and scans for everything from brain tumors to ingrown toenails. I had to convince him to give me a physician's order for medical leave from work. So I wobbled back to the exam room, tense and determined.
He sat down across from me and asked in the kindest way, "What's wrong?" No clinical jargon, no "let me diagnose you because you have no idea what your body is doing". Everything came out in a rush. The insomnia, inability to focus, the body aches, then the sudden energy crash. "What are you, twenty-five? Yeah, that's when I crashed, too. I worked in mental health. It's a tough gig, and because you care so much, you wore yourself out. You need to stop."
I argued. Once I had physical energy again, I would be fine. I can deal with the emotional intensity. I love my job. It's rewarding. And I'm good at it. And could he please just give me three weeks off? Then I'd be fine again. I just need sleep.
He sighed and looked at me sidelong. "You crying?" And he wiped my eye with his thumb, and it wasn't even strange.
"I'm sorry! I'm not a public crier!"
"Oh, don't worry about it. I was crying everywhere. At the grocery store. Everywhere. And I'm not going to give your three weeks off work, because you'll feel a little better, and you'll go right back to it. I'm not going to let you get as low as I did. You have other interests, right? Get better, then go do them."
How did this doctor know me? And know what I needed to hear?
"You gave everything you had," he kept repeating. "Now stop."
And so I did. Quit my job. Just like that, quit what had been nearly my entire world for almost three years. I hung up from telling my boss and sobbed. Julie hugged me until I stopped.
Art and Lisa took care of my next month's rent so, suddenly without income, I didn't have to make the moving decision for another month. Geryll and Carla offered their home to me if I needed it. Julie's parents told her and Laverne to not leave without bringing me back to recover at their place.
I felt like Frodo, going to stay with the Elves.
In a matter of days, what could have been cataclysmic was just... taken care of. And I didn't have to do anything but rest. I couldn't do anything but rest. Before, being needy and not tending my own affairs was nearly impossible for me to handle. When I didn't have another choice but accepting help, I learned something: it's a precious thing, being part of the Body of Christ. What else would make friends treat you like family? What do people do without it? Become homeless, maybe. We're all just fragile. That is all. So little stands between us and utter vulnerability. And those of us who know people who act like Jesus have a network of support that catches us and holds us up. And by this all people know we are disciples...
Let me tell you, being in bed nearly 24/7 for almost a month isn't a picnic, even though there appear to be a few similarities. You know, quilts and things. Few things are more demoralizing than a constant bedhead. But realizing how much of your self-worth is entangled in being happy, active, useful, and moderately intelligent is definitely one of those things. In one fell swoop, I was left without all the things that defined me. I couldn't focus enough to read. Creeping to the bathroom a few times a day was my daily feat. I felt so utterly useless.
But here's the thing about loss. And suffering. It not only refines us... It redefines us. That's the redemption. Not even having anything interesting to say anymore laid bare my constant earning. From God. From people. I loved the things I did because I loved them, but if I was honest with myself, I would have admitted I thought my worth was earned.
After three weeks, and I was only capable of two hours of activity... and dear Mimi and Julie were still serving me meals in bed, I was reduced to absolute honesty. I had to let go of the old definition of myself and what made me feel valuable. I had to trust that my worth is intrinsic... that being made by God and being loved by Him gives me worth I can't earn or diminish. So simple, in mere print. So absolutely massive to believe. Thus began a seismic shift that continues... continues to liberate me.
I'm learning a new way to live. To rest when I'm tired. To accept that some days I simply don't have the energy to do everything I want to do. To trust that reading to kids and listening to friends is important and valuable work that God is using to bring His Kingdom. Some days, when walking across town leaves me tired and I just desperately want to run again, I'm impatient and petulant. And then I remember how it feels to be pushed in a wheelchair because my legs wobbled too much to walk, and I am grateful. So grateful to be recovering as quickly as I am...
There is no end to redemption.
Or the way God gives in return far more than we lose.
Here's some proof.
The guy who had been such a good friend for the previous year and a half asked me to be his best friend. And I have time to enjoy him. But that's a whole other story...
Until I tell a synopsis, you really should read Ryan's blog. I think you'll agree that I'm completely objective in stating that he's pretty amazing.