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Finding My Authentic Yes in Life With Chronic Illness

For years, anxiety and sadness would surface when said “no” yet again.  It just seemed like the world was moving on without me. I had a fear of missing out.

I can’t eat at that restaurant.

I’m too exhausted to be out for four hours.

Their basement has mold and I’m going to have an environmental reaction.

I don’t have the energy for small talk.

The reasons seemed to abound for why I wasn’t able to do what my friends were doing. And these reasons were real and valid.

For me this has not been the deepest, most nuanced part to process about my mental health with chronic fatigue.
It’s been about taking seriously what I can do. Yes, trauma and isolation and depression can make anyone feel like they are the only one. But any “no” given makes room for an authentic “yes.”

For a while, my authentic “yes” felt like drudgery. My authentic yes was to myself, in really small ways like rubbing my feet before bed with coconut oil, taking myself on a one-block walk, cooking breakfast, and then needing to rest all day out of exhaustion. My authentic yes meant learning to spend time with myself, to feel joy in my own presence. I was learning to be with my loneliness, and slowly over the years have that transformed into solitude.

My authentic yes was terrifying — and also life-affirming.

What can I do?  I can learn to accept how often and I am alone and learn to love myself wholly and unapologetically.
Out of that aloneness has come an examination of my identities and how particularly my whiteness functions in the context of chronic illness and mental health.

I can assume that when most people are thinking or talking about disability, chronic illness, and mental health, they mean “white disability, chronic illness and mental health.” I have greater access to mental health professionals, which operates on racist foundations. I can find a white mental health professional easily. My trauma is more likely to be believed because I am white. If I wanted to, I could center myself in the chronic fatigue conversation without ever talking about my race. I intuitively know that white psychologists will often view oppression in individualistic ways, which serves white supremacy.

Part of my mental health healing journey has been understanding my social location and realizing the power dynamics of a given situation. I will keep learning more about things I miss, and healing through learning about mental health and disability from those who are different than me.

Part of white supremacy’s legacy is stripping away people of color and indigenous healing methods and experiences and making it an academic discipline to serve capitalism. So while I’m a white person who has had access to therapists who work with EMDR, and this has helped me, I’m still grieving loss of community. In the name of colonialism and white supremacy, I have lost my pre-colonial ancestral Celtic roots.

I keep coming back to a question in my mental health journey as a white person: How did I end up in a mindset of scarcity while living amongst privilege?

I inherited emotional and spiritual scarcity from my lineage. Choosing whiteness became what was most important. Making money became what was most important. So much energy is spent defending oneself and suppressing the truth within white communities.

I see most of my mental health struggle as ancestral — it’s been passed down as a white way of being. My mental health is improved, even when my body is still fatigued as I work to be in a learning posture, to surrender linear ways of thinking and being, to accept and be present to my own limitations. My mental health has been greatly served by following and learning and contributing to these people and organizations.

The Nap Ministry
Mia Mingus
Disability Visibility Project
Power Not Pity
ME Action: Unseen: Black People Living With ME

Do my mental health and chronic illness still matter even though I am white? Of course they do. I also know this journey does involve moving through guilt and shame, and this has been part of my story.  I do believe that a lot of mental health focused on white people is so individualistic and insular that the point is to “get through all that guilt and shame so you can get back to your life as a productive citizen.”

What if mental health was also about connecting to one’s ancestral roots?

What if mental health included family history, the country’s history, and the land you lived on?

What if mental health was about doing less and actually learning to be with discomfort?

If I can learn to be with my discomfort, then over time I can be with others’ discomfort and allow for the greater range of human emotion.  I will believe stories of prejudice, of discrimination and racism because I can sit with my own anger and confusion and betrayal. This leads to connection with myself and others — what I have been searching for all along.

Getty image by Kharchenko_irina7.