Reconciling With My Former Healthy Self

A friend of mine recently sent me a picture. The picture was from 12 years ago, two months before a virus would completely shatter my life. This was before the words ME/CFS ever left my lips, let alone heard by my ears. My friend carried on reminiscing about this golden era of our lives. His voice became muffled and distant, as the foreground of my attention became unbreakably fixed on this former version of myself. I could not stop staring. I recognized her as both self and stranger. Every shred of her experience no longer tangible or relatable to mine. In that lifetime, limitation and constraint were unknown. Health and vitality were both a given, every day of the week. Her eyes looked different too. They didn’t confess prolonged sadness and struggle when you looked into them. Don’t even get me started on how different her body looks. I have to admit, there was part of me that wanted to rip up the photo and distance myself from her. It hurt too much to remember what being healthy felt like. It hurt to much to remember the freedom that came with that health. The excitement to feel what life had to offer at my fingertips.

How do I not put this former lifetime onto a pedestal? I mean, a life without illness would be a dream come true for me right now. But I know during that time in my life, my world was not all butterflies and rainbows. I had 99 problems, and health wasn’t one of them. Now I have 99 problems, and health is nearly all of them. How do I reconcile these seemingly separate lives and versions of myself?

This answer did not come easily. The only way I can reconcile them is knowing the steep learning curve that separates them. The steep learning curve that lay ahead for the girl in the photo. She thought she understood gratitude. It wasn’t until she would be confined to a bed for months on end and regain the ability to walk again, would she truly come to know it. She thought she knew patience too. She hadn’t yet learned to surrender to a body when it says no, time and time again. How about trust? She met it for the first time when she had to free fall out of life. Not knowing what lay ahead, there was nothing to cushion the fall, but her unwavering trust in life itself. I look at her with new eyes now. Eyes of compassion, not of envy.

How comforting it would have been to be young and have a pep talk from my older self in terms of living with chronic illness — the good and the bad of it. An emotional hug before the storm.

painting by the author

I would say to her, no amount of preparation would be enough for what is to come. It will be a trip with no packed bags or map. You will be lost and confused for most of it. Many tears will be shed. Luckily, you will run into people on the same path, equally as prepared. Many smiles will be shared, and hands held in solidarity. Seek solace in them, and draw your strength from each other. For this path is not easy, and no one should travel it alone.

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