Believe it or not, I have experienced many blessings, or gifts, as I prefer to call them (not sure why–that’ll be another reflection sometime! 🙂 ), as a direct consequence of this illness. Some have been pretty obvious, such as the gift of having various family members visit and spend time with us more often than they would have otherwise, or the gift of realizing, again, both the breadth and the depth of my support system of relatives and friends, near and far, so many pulling for me, praying for me, propping up my entire family in so many ways both tangible and intangible throughout this “season” in our lives…..
Some of the gifts bestowed upon me, on the other hand, have been less obvious, more hidden….Some of the gifts I’ve been given have taken more time, more thought, to discover…. But they are no less real and, perhaps, even more enduring….
The first one I’d like to reflect on is what I call simply, the gift of fatigue! Yes, really!! That may sound crazy, but bear with me…. 🙂 In the beginning of all of this, after the nausea and the headaches had gone their merry way but the fatigue had stayed on as an unwelcome guest, I bounced around among a variety of emotions (when I had the energy to!): confusion (“What the heck is going on??”), uncertainty (“How long is this going to last??”), hopefulness (“Surely I’ll be feeling better next week…”), guilt (“Everyone is being so nice to us, and doing so much for us! I’m mostly healthy!! Why can’t I do more for myself and my family??”), embarrassment (“When people come for a quick visit, I probably seem fine…for those 20-30 minutes….How can I explain to them how exhausted I really feel underneath what seems to be my cheerful exterior?? They probably think I’m faking it!”), certainly gratitude (Need I explain?? 🙂 ) and mostly, frustration (“Why can’t I do more??”).
I struggled often with that last one, that feeling of “Why can’t I do more???” To be forced to step back from all of my volunteer activities…to have the option of exercising taken away… to no longer have the physical wherewithal to go out for an evening for dinner, drinks, a movie with friends or even to take my daughter to her evening gymastics class…to have to rely on friends and relatives to do things I should have been able to do–things as simple as sweeping my kitchen floor!…to see my husband and kids scrambling and struggling to do things that I could have easily done for them if I had the energy to just get up off the freakin’ couch!… As Charlie Brown so often said, “Aaaaauuuuugggghhh!” And as I said to various confidants, “Sometimes this just sucks!!!”
And that was definitely true. At some point in the first couple of months, however, it occurred to me that there were blessings to be found in the fatigue, if I looked through a different lens. Rather than focusing on all the things had been lost because of my lack of energy, I began to see some of the things that had been gained as a result of it. I began to see that my husband and kids, for example, could do much more for themselves when given the chance (even though “the chance” had been forced upon them! 🙂 ). They could all get themselves up in the morning! They could all make their own lunches for work and school! They could handle the vacuum cleaner, and they could even make supper from time to time (yes, even 7-yr-old John, with a little supervision!)! These four people whom I loved and with whom I lived, and for whom I had done so much for so long, were, in fact, incredibly capable, competent, and responsible people!! They just needed the opportunity to show it. And it seems that I just needed to be knocked to my knees in order to allow them that opportunity! With the onset of my fatigue, the opportunity presented itself to all of us….And without a doubt, my husband and my children responded, and rose to the challenge. 🙂
Another aspect of “the gift of fatigue” manifested itself as I began to realize that my sudden decrease in doing had brought with it a subtle increase in opportunities for being. When Sarah, Ryan, and John got home from school after the fatigue struck, for example, I was no longer distracted by whatever tasks I felt I needed to get done, like washing dishes or making dinner. I was either not doing those things any more(!), or I had gotten them done earlier in the day, when I had more energy. By 3:30 in the afternoon, I really wasn’t up to doing much of anything…which, I realized, freed me to simply be with them, whether at the table or on the couch, and be fully present while they talked about their day or worked on their homework…. What a novel concept! 🙂 And truly a gift….
I experienced a similar change in my relationship with Chris–for example, since I was no longer able to be “my most productive” between the hours of 8:30 and 10:30 pm (I used to take great pride in how much I could get done once the kids were in bed!)–or heck, be productive at all!!–it allowed us to simply spend time being together, talking, checking in. Often I did need to “just close my eyes” while we sat on the couch (and sometimes still do!), but we could still just enjoy relaxing together more often than we used to when I (we both, actually) used to feel the need to be productive in the evenings. We also began to make an effort to take walks together on the weekend. Since my best hours occurred in the morning, which on most days was when Chris was at work, we decided to carve out a little time on weekend mornings for just us. The kids are old enough now that we felt we could leave them home by themselves for a little while, and it wasn’t like we were going to be gone for long, anyway! But just making that effort, just taking that little bit of time together while I was at “my best” (such as it was!), was something we hadn’t done much of before and discovered we really enjoyed! I used to occasionally tell Chris that he didn’t realize just how lucky he was to be married to me!! Yes, I really said that to him. And believed it! 🙂 Over the course of this illness, however, it has become clear to me that I am the lucky one. My husband is a thoughtful, caring, responsible, funny, loving, good man, and I am grateful every day that he is alllllll mine. 🙂
This experience with fatigue has not been an easy one. It has not been anything that anyone would look on from the outside and say, “Wow, I wish I could go through that! That looks like fun!” I doubt that “I want to feel continually worn-out and lacking in energy!” would show up on anyone’s list of New Year’s Resolutions!
But, there has been a giftedness in the midst of it all. There have been bright spots that have broken through the clouds. Profoundly good things have come about in our family as a direct consequence of this difficult time, and I have to believe that those good things will ultimately benefit others as well….
Some time ago, I copied a prayer from a book that I was reading, In the Sanctuary of Women by Jan L. Richardson. The prayer is entitled “A Prayer For Evening,” and I’d like to share it here:
“Blessed are you, O God, who dwells even in darkness and who restores your creation with the gift of rest. Deliver your people from the troubles of the night, and let your peacefulness and grace be upon each place.” Amen.
At the time, I read it as just what the title implies, as a prayer for evening, for bedtime, a prayer for that time of “daily rest.” Now, though, I read it with different eyes and with a different heart…. Now I read it as a prayer for a period of “darkness,” for a season of “rest”…. Certainly God is dwelling with me in this “darkness,” and restoring my soul with this “gift of rest”….And God’s peacefulness and grace is not only upon, but is filling this place. Thanks be to God for the gift of fatigue. 🙂