My last post about misfortune and friendships turned out to be somewhat controversial, at least to some. Putting my anger so obviously on display can be seen as weakness. After all, aren’t we supposed to get beyond that sort of thing as we age? Can’t we turn our anger into compassion for ourselves and others?
I like to think we can, but not immediately. A loving friend, who knows of what she speaks, observed yesterday that my response to my own failing health is so normal and so a part of “The 5 Stages of Grieving.” Yes, grieving is not just about losing a loved one. It can also be about losing a belief that sustains you. In my case I lost my illusion that my body is strong and healthy, and somehow immune to the millions of accidents and other misfortunes that life can throw at me.
It has been so confusing to me to be angry that I even caught this disgusting infection, while not blaming those who refuse to be around me because of it. I so understand their fear of contracting it. It’s the worst! But where do my feelings figure into this discussion?
My husband Mike is an interesting person to talk to about illness and friendships. He lost friends when he somehow contracted Myalgic encephalomyelitis / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) at age 35 in the early 1990s. He had no idea what he had at first and either did most doctors. They would do lots of tests, and when they couldn’t figure out a proper diagnosis, they took to blaming him or his depression. His friends also had no idea how to react and some just decided to vaporize, but the hardcore ones remained for decades by his side. Of course he of all people understands fear of illness, but he also had no interest in looking up those who vaporized when he was very sick.
Mike has grieved for years over the loss of his high level of health before he suddenly became ill in his 30s. He has also developed an amazing level of compassion for those who struggle with illness, pain and frailty. He does not seem to judge anyone. He just understands.
I will continue to deal with my own losses day by day. I do feel sorry for myself sometimes, and when I do I remember one of my favorite lines from an incredible therapist I saw for five years in my 30s:
“At least when you are feeling sorry for yourself, you are feeling something for yourself.”