TWO YEARS AGO, post-Kauai (Who doesn’t “look great” after 2 weeks in Hawaii, I ask you?)
I hesitate to “post” about medical issues. I don’t want people (by which I mean my employer and much younger coworkers) to view me as different: older, weaker, less-than I was. Limited.
But limited is where I currently reside. I don’t know how long I’ll feel this way. Maybe another week? A month? Probably not forever, but for now, it seems as though my present limitedness knows no limit.
“You look great!” people say, and they’re being nice. And they sound surprised. Karma’s cute. About three months ago in a Fluevog store in Minneapolis, I said something along these lines to the woman helping me after she told me she has cancer. I was stunned. She had so much energy, her countenance was downright sunny. Actually, I said something even more insulting than “You look great!” I said, “But: you look so ALIVE!” And she’s like, “Uh. I’m not dead.” My foot has never lodged itself so firmly in my mouth.
So I look great, but I don’t feel great. I’m guessing the lovely Minnesotan woman I offended did not feel all that great. There’s pressure that comes with looking great, healthy, “fine.” I explained it to a friend recently thusly: It’s like when you see a two-year-old with tall parents, and that two-year-old looks like a four-year-old, and you expect her to be able to speak, potty independently, have self-control and manners. But she’s just two. It’s too much to ask of her. That’s how I feel.
It turns out I’m not alone in feeling this way. Did you know there’s an Invisible Illness Awareness Week? A friend who suffers from an invisible awareness made me aware of But You Don’t Look Sick.
When I change my profile picture on Facebook, I go out of my way to caption the photo, clarifying so there’s no doubt that my robust image pre-dates my cardiac event. Yeah, I DID look great and healthy in that photo. Thanks. Read the fine print, please. It was taken two years ago. Don’t expect me to act like I feel that good.
Feeling this way threw me into a quandary this past Sunday. At 9 a.m., before my husband showered he asked me whether to wake the teenagers, and I rolled over and wrestled with expectations of myself. I thought of my neighbor, one of the pastors at our church, who has Parkinson’s Disease. I thought of him and the effort it must take for him to show up at church, his job, to shake hands, give hugs, be cheerful and loving. As I lay there shoulding on myself, I opened the WordPress reader on my phone and was greeted by this post: When We Don’t Look As Sick As We Feel. I read it and thanked Jesus for the permission to stay home. I said a prayer for my pastor, decided to let go of my guilt for a moment, and “listened to my body.” My body slept in till 1 in the afternoon, and the day before that I had collapsed into a four-hour nap. It was a lost day.
But yesterday was a good day. It was a fairly high-energy day, relatively. I did what I could and even reached. It was more than I’ve accomplished since before my July 23 heart attack. Recovery Journal Entry:
Monday, August 18: woke at 10, got up, dressed, did one light load of laundry, took brisk 15-minute walk, 25 crunches, so far so good at 2pm. baked a cobbler, did some computer work, dinner was delivered which helped immensely, took another walk with Jack, went to bed at 11:00.
Part of what made yesterday a good day was the relief and security I felt knowing a kind friend was going to bring a meal at 6pm. (It was delicious and nutritious, Jenni. Bless you.) Knowing that if I pooped out, which is a common, capricious occurrence, my family wouldn’t have to scrounge in the fridge for something nutritious to eat, that my husband wouldn’t have to run out for take-out. Huzzah for good days.
Today? Not so much. But thank God for a solid employer with generous short term disability benefits. For two more weeks I can allow myself to go with however I feel on a day-by-day, hour-to-hour basis. If I’m wiped out, I rest in knowing I don’t have to push myself too far. I know I can drop and sleep if necessary. I will still get out of bed, wash my face and fix my hair, and get dressed. I will still take at least one short walk, because I’ve been told physical activity is good for my recovery. I will walk on routes outside my neighborhood in order to avoid running into a friend who may tell me how great I look.
And one of these days, there will be two good days in a row. And then three. But for now I will enjoy the ones, when they come. Without limit.
What a girl looks like 12 hours before a heart attack
What a girl looks like 48 hours after a heart attack. Necrotic heart tissue is not visible on the face.