“They (the ill) may gain insights they may never had had in their normal life. They may access their inner knowing and contentment and speak words of wisdom. Then, when they get better, energy returns and so does the ego.”-Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
So why did my health take a downturn? I don’t think it was simply bad luck. In fact, I’m pretty sure it had a lot to do with my ego showing up again.
When I became sick in 2013 I had been filled for years with guilt, shame and the sense that I wasn’t enough. Several years later, I finally stopped focusing on physical health as the ultimate goal and started exploring how to feel whole even while living with illness. I practiced accepting my life as it was. I took a deep dive into my psyche and soul and found a way to start letting go of the things that made me feel less than. And I started to heal.
When I first regained my health I was filled with gratitude. Everything felt like enough: being able to take a walk or a hike, working with young children, making plans! But several months in I started to forget the lessons I had learned. I became rigid. I clung to my health. I freaked out every time I caught a virus, terrified that my chronic illness would return and that I wouldn’t be able to fulfill/pursue my dreams. I started to feel that what I had wasn’t enough. That I wasn’t enough. I wanted more.
I noticed a slight feeling of embarrassment when I shared with people that I was a teacher’s aide. With a teaching credential and a Master’s degree I felt I should be leading my own class. I became less present at my job. Instead of appreciating that I got to spend time with adorable kindergartners each day I worried that I was being underutilized. I started substituting for other teachers at my school, but I wasn’t really doing it for selfless reasons. I wanted to further my own ambitions. I thought that if I said yes to everything the school requested of me I would be seen as indispensable and might have a better chance of getting a head teaching job the following year. I don’t actually enjoy substituting. I find it exhausting to work with a group of kids whom I don’t know and who often try to see what they can get away with while their teacher is gone for the day (not that I blame them). And it’s rare that I did any actual teaching in those classes. It was mostly babysitting. But I pushed myself because I thought it would help me get where I was determined to go.
I also became critical of my body again, this body which has been through so much and couldn’t help becoming a little fuller, a little softer due to years of forced rest. Instead of appreciating that my body could physically accomplish more than it had been able to in years I noticed the superficial flaws, the lumps and bumps and the extra weight.
I felt “less than”, even with my physical health mostly intact. I distracted myself with “doing,” and when I paused I felt an uncomfortable emptiness. I had stopped accepting (and appreciating) life as it was. Perhaps it was inevitable that my symptoms would return once I lost sight of what had gotten me to better health in the first place. I guess I have some lessons to relearn.