In the Mind-Body class this morning, we had a short focusing activity lead by the instructor and then had to write a dialogue between ourselves and whatever topic had presented itself during the activity. I had actually been thinking of several possible topics, but the topic that presented itself to me most strongly was my immune deficiency. We were supposed to image this topic as a thing, almost another entity, so that we could truly dialogue with it. .
This activity is taken from The Healthy Mind Healthy Body Handbook on page 108. The book suggests that you think of this entity as a inner advisor. However, for those of you who are familiar with British author Terry Pratchett’s fantasy and science fiction books, I imagined the immune deficiency somewhat like the character Death. It is both a part of me, yet separate from me, and can talk to me, but only when it wants to. The irony of that choice is not lost on me. But it did make it easy to start writing. Once I started, I found myself completely surprised by what happened. I had always thought that a little bit of the immune deficiency was my fault; that somehow there had been something in regard to my health that I hadn’t done quite right. As soon as I wrote that down and could see it in front of me, I realized how absurd that was. That’s like blaming ourselves for breast cancer, or infertility.
Me: Why are you here?
Immune Deficiency: I just am.
Me: Sometimes I think it’s my fault that you’re here. I didn’t always clean my medical equipment perfectly.
Immune Deficiency: That may have hastened my arrival, but I would have come anyway. Eventually.
Immune Deficiency: Because you were born with a weak immune system. It was on it’s way to collapsing long before you started to use medical equipment for your sinuses. I would have come sooner or later. It’s not your fault.
And then my next entry in the conversation took me utterly by surprise.
Me: Then why do I hold on to the thought that it’s my fault? Mostly I know I had no control over your arrival, but there is this small part of me that sometimes thinks I did.
Immune Deficiency: If you blame yourself, even to a small degree, you can avoid dealing with the grief.
Me: What grief specifically? I feel like there’s so much grief.
Immune Deficiency: All of it. You don’t have to distinguish. It’s OK if the different griefs merge together.
Me: But there’s so much! I can’t live a normal life. I’m tied to an IV pole all day once every three weeks. It hurts. I get horrible side effects. I can’t go far from medical care. I still can get infections so easily. Our whole social schedule has to be built around my infusion schedule. And I feel like I’m whining. I’m so much more fortunate that so many others. My life is more normal than someone dying of cancer.
Immune Deficiency: Don’t compare your life to others. It’s another way of avoiding grief when you focus on them. If you think you have no right to grief, it’s another way of avoiding it.
Me: I wish I had a normal energy level. I wish I could wake up feeling healthy and pain free. I wish the infusions didn’t hurt. I wish I didn’t get sick and feel so awful after them. I wish I could travel somewhere longer than three weeks at a time.
Immune Deficiency: There’s more.
Me: Yeah. I wish I didn’t have to make such dramatic changes to my life. Why do I have to make such radical changes to the time I invest in teaching? I’m afraid I won’t be as good a teacher then. Actually, I’m afraid of a lot of things. And all these changes are really, really hard.
The grief is frightening to me. I’m afraid that if I open the gates to allow the grief in, grief will completely overwhelm me, and I’ll never find my equilibrium again. Right now I feel like I’ve made peace with the immune deficiency, and I feel like I have at least some control over my life. My anxieties whisper to me that if I allow myself to feel grief, I will never feel in control again. My head knows that it isn’t true, that in fact in feeling grief, I will arrive at a more balanced equilibrium. But that process is frightening. And hard.