How others Wrestle with their Angels
I listened to an episode of "The Conversation" on the BBC World Service, where two women talked of having been kidnapped and held hostage for long periods of time in terrible conditions. Ingrid Betancourt was held in the Columbian jungle for six and a half years. Amanda Lindhout was taken in Somalia and kept captive for a year and a half. I felt deeply shocked by their accounts of what had been done to them, and listened with awe as they both described how they survived.
Towards the end of the conversation the interviewer asked them what, if anything, the experience had taught them.
Amanda Lindhout replied that, despite all the difficulties, it was the most deeply spiritual experience she had known, being alone in the dark room with just her mind and spirit. She spoke of how she came to understand the immense resources she had inside that enabled her to keep going. That knowledge of how strong and courageous she is has remained with her ever since, and been important in how she meets challenges now.
Ingrid Betancourt said she too discovered an inner strength. She described the time she was chained by the neck to a tree, where her captors wanted to break her spirit, to turn her into some kind of animal, and how she was able to resist this. She said, "I realised I can change every aspect of my inner life, my emotions, thoughts and reactions. I gained a new and different sense of self where I can now realise my real potential. I have the power to be whatever I want to be."
I am deeply moved at the way these two women managed their lives and survived. They went through unimaginable situations and yet both came out transformed, strengthened and more fully themselves.
They have written books that have received very good reviews and I have ordered copies of both.
Imagine for a moment that you have all sorts of symptoms, generally unpleasant ones, such that you are unable to do any of the things you normally do and your mind does not work as usual. You are no longer your usual self. It's as if everything you think you are has been disabled.
Most people find this situation unbearable and are desperate to get out of it, to return to normality as quickly as possible.
But it may be that there is something to learn while we are unwell. Illness is a part of life that everyone experiences at some stage. I suggest we should try to come to terms with it while we are experiencing it. Rather than resenting it, which doesn't help, we could accept it for now and explore it. What are the sensations? Whereabouts in your body is the pain? How much of the discomfort is pain and how much is frustration?
My question now is: "How would you describe yourself in this situation? Are you still fully human, even if you feel you are no use to anyone?"
It's common to feel one is worthless, a burden to others, to the whole of society. People often feel guilty about being ill, particularly if others have to do the work they would have been doing. They act as if it is their fault.
Isn't that strange? No-one deliberately makes themselves seriously ill!
It could be better to try a description such as: I am an intelligent and sensitive human being living with difficult symptoms.
It may also be important to remind others to see you as a real human being, not just a bundle of unpleasant symptoms.
Cure or Healing for Chronic Fatigue
What most of us want when we are ill is to get better. Pretty obvious! But what does that mean? We often talk of finding a cure. To me, a cure means a return to how we were before we got ill, and it's great if it happens. But sometimes it doesn't. Some illnesses don't allow such an outcome. In such cases healing, which implies going on to something new, is the way forward.
I have a friend who has Chronic Fatigue. This has knocked her back for a year and a half now. At first she was upset at not being able to do all the things she wanted to do. She tried a variety of treatments and felt they helped but did not last for long. She kept on feeling exhausted and having to lie down. And then feeling bored and frustrated. After a while she started to listen to talks by people like Ekhart Tolle and Pema Chodron, and found that she could simply stop trying to do, and just BE. And the more she allowed herself to stop and be the more relaxed she felt. Then she found the treatments she was having had longer lasting effects. She started to feel better!
As she got better she started to do those things she had always done, doing too much. And very soon she felt ill again. After a while she came to realise that her illness was demanding that she actually make changes to her lifestyle, and continue in those changes when she was feeling well. Now she is more consistently getting stronger.
This is the kind of wrestling we have to do when we get ill.
Last week I went to a local gig where Emily Maguire was singing. I loved her songs and bought her book. In it she writes of bi-polar disorder, 'I want to tell you it can be as much a blessing as a curse. I wouldn't write songs the way I do if I didn't have it.'
Further on she writes, 'I know from painful personal experience that loving someone who is ill can be just as frightening and frustrating as being ill myself.'
I find her openness very moving, I have never heard someone talk so clearly about her personal experiences with this disorder.