On those rare occasions that I venture out into the world and interact with other humans, common courtesy makes people ask how I’m doing, but I never know how to respond. I’d say “I’m tired,” but my mind says I haven’t the right, haven’t earned that descriptor. When ‘tired’ is for marathon runners or physical laborers, when ‘exhausted’ is reserved for working 100 hours a week or a harried mom of 3, I’m not allowed to be tired. When the adolescent me had aches, they were ‘just growing pains;’ when youth me was feeling down I got reminded that there was ‘nothing to be sad about;’ and teen me falling asleep in class was labeled ‘bored’ at best or ‘lazy’ at worst. Even young adult me, so overwhelmed she was hospitalized for 10 days, she just ‘needed a break from being a mommy,’ right? So adult me doesn’t want to feel it anymore, but I still do because I can’t not feel. I don’t know how. I feel so much, so strongly, every sense of me, every sense of the word “feel.” You’ve heard the phrase “all the feels?” Well, that’s been my entire life. I feel the girl’s pain, the teen’s frustration, the young mom’s shame and guilt. I feel the feels of past mes, of present mes, of all the possible future mes because the masochist in my grey matter wants to show me how they might turn out in any infinite number of maybe-worlds. Feeling just-now, just-here takes work, and it’s still so much. Feeling the anxiety clench of my chest, the dull ache of my back, the unexpected Vulcan death pinch on my shoulder, feeling the sounds in the air like physical fists fighting against me that knock me over and steal my focus, feeling the stabbing, burning, shooting through my limbs as nerves misfire like tiny confused soldiers. Friendly fire, maybe? Doesn’t feel friendly. Feeling the guilt and shame of being a burden, being unreliable, the grief of all the things I can’t even put on my bucket list because my bucket is rusty with holes in it. Feeling the regrets of all the things I didn’t do when I could have, things I didn’t even know my soul wanted until my body was too broken to really explore them. I feel the tangible, the intangible, the undefined, the misunderstood. Decades now of aches and pains, fears and doubts and chronic disorders have taken root in my soul and I feel tired.
So many voices telling me through the years, ‘just try this,’ ‘you should drink that,’ ‘if only you ate better,’ ‘why aren’t you exercising,’ ‘no pain no gain,’ ‘can’t is a four letter word,’ ‘just try harder.’ Well-meaning sure, but does well-meaning matter when it takes the form of destructive squatters in your subconscious? Because every well-meaning bit of advice becomes another example of not trying hard enough, not wanting it badly enough. How do you not want good health? In my world, good health is the wild fantasy, the favorite depressing torturous daydream. My world puts good health and hobbits and elves in the same mystical pocket of time and space where I can hear about it and see it, but I’ll never experience it first-hand because there’s no passport to get there from my world. My world of pain and frustration, limits and illness. My world of “but you don’t look sick” and “nothing’s medically wrong” and “the tests don’t show…” until finally they do show and something is wrong, been wrong all along, but the damage is done now. Damage to the world, my world, this world of now, been building so long, so slowly, so sneaky. Built by the people, mental squatters, the voices of “drink this, don’t eat that” and “haven’t you tried” so when that old nothing is finally something, well maybe it wouldn’t have been? All the advice should have stopped it if I truly tried hard enough, and that’s how it’s all my fault now. Fault like an earthquake ripping open the ground beneath me, sucking away my joy, my independence, my reliability, my physical autonomy, all because I like sweets, I ate the French fries, and I didn’t exercise more in college.
So now it’s official, and doesn’t that help? Official in ways, but so much still undefined, with this lazy defense system and a series of disorders that are often more about ruling out what they aren’t. My body is my greatest enemy and over time my mind has become its army. The aches and pains ‘all in my head’ are gathered now to show their work like a 5th grade math class making sure I’m aware of just how badly I screwed up. Still I heed advice, try this or that (because denial is real and nobody wants to be chronically ill), and shame myself for not trying more. Tiny steps to hope I’ll feel better, always thinking “if I just…” but I don’t or I can’t or it never lasts and it doesn’t fix me anyway. Anxiety takes hold with a pit bull grip on my self-worth. Should have listened, should have listened, now here I am with my broken body and fractured mind, held together by papier mache and hugs.
So I spend my days fighting. I fight the aches and pains that make it hard to get dressed, fight the desire to spend energy on fun things when I need to save it for chores so we have clean dishes to eat from. I fight the anxiety that wants me to believe everyone hates me, and sometimes most of all, I fight the internal voices that say all these fights are my fault to start with. I fight to believe I still have value, to believe I’m not a burden to those who care. I fight to improve my quality of life because quantity without quality is just clutter and I have enough clutter thankyouverymuch. I fight to hang on to the loved ones who show sympathy and reach out to increase their understanding of my world because when someone comes to visit just because they miss you and your health has kept you from social events too long, there’s just no words for what that means. I’m fighting for my survival in this world. This is not a world I built alone, and I can’t change what’s already cracked in the foundation. I am not the act of god that tossed through this world and blew and blew until it blew my stamina and energy right out the window. Now, all I can do is clear the debris and create protections against future blame and shame messages of mass destruction in my world.
And maybe, just maybe, after all that fighting, I’ll find the strength to give myself permission to speak my truth. Damn, I’m tired.
Cindy is a writer, an artist, an eclectic pagan Priestess, and more. She earned a Master’s in English from MTSU with a thesis that later became a book, “Wearing Cheese and Casting Shadows: The hidden psychology of cheese in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Based in Tennessee with her wife, Cindy currently spends most of her time creating things and playing with her cat and grandbaby.