Our family has a dog. He was a “pound puppy,” although not so much a puppy–he was full-grown when we got him though his exact age was uncertain. Other than being larger than you’d expect, he has the appearance of a full-bred Cocker Spaniel–curly, caramel-colored fur; long, floppy ears; beautiful, sad-looking-in-a-melt-your-heart-kind-of-way brown eyes–and the sweetest, gentlest, loving-est personality you could want in a dog! He’s the perfect family pet.
Except for his neuroses. He has several, but the most noticeable is that he is constantly–and I mean constantly–on the lookout for food. Or, more accurately, anything remotely edible. If you happen to leave your sandwich half-eaten and too close to the table’s edge while you get up for the briefest of moments to, say, shout at your kids who are just in the next room, rough-housing too close to the stone fireplace, you will come back and find your sandwich gone and the dog lying sweetly and innocently on his doggie bed…avoiding making eye contact. “Drat!” you think. “Darn dog!” Or, if you happen to mistakenly leave the compost bucket not fully closed and then leave the room (or worse yet, go to bed!), you will come back to (or better yet, wake up to!) find banana peels, egg shells, and peach pits strewn all over the kitchen floor, and the dog, again, lying sweetly and innocently on his doggie bed, again, avoiding eye contact…but this time having a few incriminating coffee grounds stuck to the whiskers around his chin. “Arrrgh!’ you mutter under your breath. “Stupid dog!” Or, best of all, if you happen to absent-mindedly leave the kitty litter box facing the wrong (i.e., d0g-accessible) direction, you will later wonder why so much kitty litter is on the floor outside the box and why, after three days of not scooping the poop, there’s no poop to scoop?…until the dog walks by, with a few little granules of kitty litter stuck to his nose, and he’s avoiding making eye contact. “Gr-ross!!” you exclaim. “What is WRONG with you?!?!” And he slinks away…waiting for the next glorious opportunity for any kind of “snack”!
A little concerned about our dog’s “food fetish,” I asked a friend about him once, as she is a dog lover extraordinaire. She just laughed and said, “Oh, all dogs have their neuroses. Some are just more visible than others!” We’re some of the lucky ones, I guess–our dog’s neuroses are pretty darn visible. At least we know what we’re working with! 🙂
It has occurred to me, as I’ve worked on coming to terms with this fatigue thing, that the same is true with us people! Well, maybe not neuroses exactly (although some of us have some of those!), but certainly limitations–we’ve all got our limitations. Some are just more visible than others!
And I feel like that is even more true now that I’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea–I’ll tell you, having to strap on a nasal mask, which is attached to a 7-foot rubber hose, which is attached to a little machine that sits on my bedside table, every time I lie down to sleep, not only makes me feel like some sort of alien elephant (and, I might add, a super sexy one at that!) but it also makes me think, “Well, there’s no hiding this one!”
Some of us have limitations that are visible–a nasal mask, an oxygen cannula, an extra one hundred pounds, glasses, crutches, a wheelchair, a hearing aid, severely arthritic joints, a missing limb, chemotherapy-induced hair loss…just to name a few. Whether we’re looking in the mirror or at someone else, we can see these “limitations.” We can touch them. There’s no pretending they’re not there.
But other limitations, so many others, are invisible–fear, anxiety, loneliness, insecurity…anger, chronic pain, dyslexia, bulemia…being the child of an alcoholic, being the victim of an abusive partner, being a parent who has had to bury a child…needing to be in control, needing to be the best, needing the approval of a long-deceased parent…being raised with an abundance of discipline and a scarcity of affection or with an abundance of affection and a scarcity of discipline, being raised with not enough money and too much responsibility or with too much money and not enough responsibility…having high blood pressure, not having enough to eat, having a mental illness, not having a high school diploma………These limitations, and so many more, we can’t see. These we can’t touch. These we can pretend are not there. We can’t see anxiety like we can see an oxygen tank. We can’t see perfectionism like we can see a prosthetic leg. We can’t see suppressed rage like we can see severe rheumatoid arthritis, or dyslexia like we can see Down’s syndrome, or food allergies like we can see acne, or fatigue like we can see a facial tic. We can’t see them, so we can pretend they’re not there.
If we are so inclined, we might pretend it’s just others that don’t have any of these invisible limitations, even while we are all too aware of our own…thus feeding the great monster of a myth that we are somehow inferior to those around us…. “What is wrong with me that causes me to struggle with depression? All my friends seem to be able to handle their lives without medication! Why can’t I??…”
Or if we’d rather, we can pretend that we are the ones who don’t have any, that it’s just all those around us who do…thereby fattening the ugly beast of the even greater myth that we are somehow superior to those around us…. “I just learned that he’s a high school dropout! Can you imagine?? Thank goodness I’m not like that! Thank goodness my kids are all going to graduate from high school, and college, and probably even graduate school! That poor guy. I guess he just couldn’t cut it….”
Or, worst of all, perhaps, we can pretend both that we don’t have any such limitations and that no one else does, either…unwittingly fueling our deeply held desire for that oh-so-tempting yet devastatingly destructive ideal that is Flawlessness…AND fueling what I believe is our deeply mistaken belief that that Flawlessness is not only desirable but attainable…. “Isn’t it great that we’re all so put together? that we’ve got it all figured out? that we can all handle Life and everything it throws at us, without batting an eye? It’s just so amazing that we don’t have any flaws!!” (Really?!?!?!)
All damaging. All (ironically) limiting. All too common.
Is that all there is?
It seems to me that there’s a fourth option. It seems to me that there is an alternative to being imprisoned by feelings of inferiority, or attitudes of superiority, or endless disappointment in both ourselves and everyone around us for our eternal failure to achieve Perfection.
We can all just admit that we all have them. I have them, you have them, our neighbors have them, the ministers of our churches have them, our parents and our kids have them, even that person we have put up on a pedestal–yes, even that person–has them. We all have limitations! Some are just more visible than others. 🙂
To admit that doesn’t mean we’re weak. It doesn’t mean we’re inferior. It doesn’t mean we’re damaged. It doesn’t mean we have to hide our faces in embarrassment or hang our heads in shame.
It means we’re human. It means we’re real. It means we can’t do everything, we can’t be everything, we can’t figure out everything by ourselves. We can only do what we can do, we can only be who we were made to be, we can only figure out our little piece of Life (and I, at least, sometimes struggle even with that!) and watch in amazement as our piece seems to fit just right with some other little piece, which eventually and for some season of time fits with another piece, and so it goes. Admitting our “limitations” means admitting that we need each other, because while you and I both have limitations, yours are likely different from mine, and where I am somehow limited, you can perhaps share some of your strength. And vice versa. Or perhaps yours and mine are similar, yet I’ve been pretending that surely you didn’t have any, and you’ve been pretending that surely I couldn’t struggle with that, and we’ve both kept them hidden…. Until one day you happened to see a friend mix up some letters while he was writing, and said, “Hey…you do that, too?” Or someone happened to see the bruise on your arm, and she knew immediately that your partner was abusing you, and found the courage to say, “Hey…I used to get bruises like that, too….” Or you received one of my emails and learned of my recent sleep apnea diagnosis, and so you replied, “I have that, too! What kind of mask are you using? because I’ve had a hard time finding one that works for me….”
When we realize that to be limited in some way does not mean to be damaged in any way, we can more easily, I believe, accept our limitations, and those of others….
And when we can accept our limitations, whether visible or invisible, we can admit our limitations.
And when we can admit our limitations, we can share our limitations.
And when we can share our limitations, we can be real with each other.
And when we can be real with each other, we are on our way to becoming fully human, together.
Beautifully, gloriously, limitedly, fully human!
“All dogs have their neuroses! Some are just more visible than others!”
I have lived with fatigue for over a year now….I have recently been diagnosed with sleep apnea….For much of my life I have struggled with being a people-pleaser, a conflict-avoider, and a perfectionist….and I am coming to realize that I struggle with depression….
These are just some of my limitations–some more visible, some less. But I share them with you, as part of my journey toward becoming more fully human. And in the hopes that you might join me….
Together, we can all become stronger and more whole, as we accept, admit, and share our limitations with each other.
Anybody with me?