The other night something strange happened. I came home from the office, picked up my laptop, started typing several emails for work and then my body just said...no.
I don't even know how to explain it. It was like this rush of nothing came over me, I couldn't move, and my body just shut down. On top of that extreme 'no-ness', my throat has started closing up on regular intervals, I'm struggling to digest anything, acute pain is radiating throughout my body, I'm dizzy as all hell, and my head is about ready to explode. I feel like I could sleep for a year, but unfortunately I'm not one of those lucky spoonies that sleeps. I'm one of those that has to stay awake and suffer through it. The bastards.
I know why this has happened. I'm doing too much. And when you've got chronic illness, it's something you should really be a lot more sensible about. You can read more about my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, PoTS, and Histamine Intolerance here.
I'm working my real job, doing all the things for Nutritiously Natasha, the Plant-Based Picnics and the Health Bloggers Community. And I'm trying to look after myself and have some semblance of a social life. Oh, and Im studying to be a health coach at Integrative Nutrition. I know I'm supposed to rest a lot and I think I've been fooling myself with how I do it.
My boss actually sent me a really great email from a friend of hers and it had a huge amount of information about pacing. I've always told myself that if I'm not going out then I'm resting. If I'm in bed, I'm resting. But actually I'm just doing all my work in bed. Resting actually requires switching everything off and allowing your brain to switch off too. This is something that I'm going to write about more next week as I think it's really important for me to learn how to do it properly. Because, clearly, I'm terrible at it.
And now as I am back in my childhood bed, I woke up this morning thinking 'fuck being grateful'. I'm flat on my back and I have to put everything on hold. Again.
I've been reading more and more posts recently about how people with chronic illnesses are finding a great deal of comfort once they've accepted what's wrong with them and become grateful for everything it has brought them. And as much as I want to get it, I really don't.
It has taken an extremely long time, but I've finally accepted (in my own way) that I am unwell. From lying about it and hiding it as much as I could, I now actively take steps to make sure that I am doing what is right for me - whether or not 'society' understands. I talk about it, I write about it and I try to do everything that I can to mitigate relapses. Except for what's happened now, but we'll ignore that for the moment.
When it comes to being grateful for my illness, I just can't be. I understand why many speak like this, though. I really do.
If I wasn't this unwell, I probably wouldn't have done any of the things that I have done since I was eighteen. If I was well enough to have gone to drama school in New York when I wanted to, I would have. Instead, I have had to constantly find new paths to follow that are right for me at any given time. And they have changed so many times.
I have lived in France, studied International Relations, started a couple of youth politics projects that did extremely well, been flown to India to meet Richard Branson because I was an entrepreneur to watch, been to the royal wedding in Bhutan, found a love for food, become an Instagrammer, written for amazing publications, found a job that is amazingly supportive and challenging, and met all these people that I never would have if I was living in New York desperately trying to make it as an actress.
I've become a more tolerant and understanding person, a strong person, and hopefully a person who can be of support and comfort to others who are going through similar things. I think I have achieved a huge amount considering my...challenges...even though it doesn't always feel like it.
TL;DR? I've done things that would never have happened to me if I'd have gone off to New York at eighteen.
But would I give all of that up and my right arm to be healthy? You bet I would.
Well, probably not my right arm. Then I'd still be disabled and that would defeat the whole purpose.
But you know what I mean.
I was talking to my dear friend Maxine about this subject as I was writing this post. I wasn't sure if it was just me who felt like this. Am I just an inherently negative person? And she just summed it up perfectly:
"Sure, we may become stronger people because we've had to deal with this stuff, but for most I think we'd tolerate being a little less strong to avoid the pain we had to go through to get there..."
The nature of chronic illness is that even when you're doing everything right (again, let's ignore my uber busy-ness and how much I've been pushing myself recently), you can still have a relapse. This has happened to me more times than I can count, and it's depressing as hell because it's a slap in the face that reminds you that your body has other plans for you. It's actually a lot harder when you're doing everything right for this to happen because it feels so insanely unfair.
The trick is not letting it get you down (even when you're prone to the deep-darks), pushing through and making the best of the situation that you can. And this, I think, is where I think you can be positive about your health without being grateful for your lack of it.
A number of people on Instagram have told me that it's my mindset that is making things worse. And yes, I appreciate that the mind plays a huge role in how you're feeling, but it's an entirely natural and human response when something bad happens out of the blue to not be ok with it. I'm not going to pretend that I am because that's what I'm supposed to do. And I want to make it super clear that this does not, for a moment, mean that I can't accept positive things or be grateful for things in my life. I just can't be grateful for the illness itself. I can't.
I think it's totally ok (and normal) to get down when something happens to your body. To grieve for what you wish you could do. It becomes unhealthy when you let those feelings start swirling and they start to entirely take over.
I usually give myself a day or two, and then I get back up on the horse and think about the things that I can do to help my body recover as quickly as possible. Of course, the nature of depression is sometimes it's almost impossible to do that, but there's a trick to learning ways that work for you to help you snap out of it. That's why I spontaneously buggered off to Paris at the end of October! It helped more than I thought it would.
One thing I have found I have found quite difficult, and sometimes isolating, is that in the wellness community there is a huge tendency to a more spiritual and 'high vibe' approach to life. I am finding this with my course at IIN. I can be watching a video about the health benefits of community and surrounding yourself with happy loving people, doing a job you love, and all that jazz that makes a huge amount of sense...and then suddenly there's a whole spiel about the divinity that's inherently inside all of us and living life in the flow of abundance.
While I understand that this works for many people, equally it doesn't for others. And while we are taught about the importance of bio-individuality when it comes to the food that we put in our bodies, this strong focus on the other side doesn't take into consideration those who just inherently don't connect to that.
And this is all tied into that weird thing that I've found on Instagram about people having an opinion about the way you live your life - be that the diet you're finding works for you, the lifestyle choices you're making, or the way that you respond to different things that happen to you.
I've said it many times before and I'll say it again. We are all different and the ways in which we respond to situations are different. And there isn't a right or wrong answer.
I'll never be a spiritual person (fun story: I've never felt a connection to god or any kind of spiritual anything, but I thought if I could (out of academic curiosity) it would happen on the sabbath, new year's eve, by the wailing wall in Jerusalem. Nothing happened. Except I slipped on one of the wet stones and dislocated my knee. It was definitely a sign) and I'm not an inherently positive person either. It's just not very 'me'.
What gets me out of bed is being productive and doing things and being engaged and excited about the work that I'm doing and surrounding myself with people who challenge me. I find it incredibly healing to create, explore, experiment, and do things that are practical and tangible. For some people, that doesn't work. For me it does.
I appreciate that I need to learn how to rest and how to pace and how to find ways to not let myself get too run down because I will hit a brick wall (hello!). But. And it's a very big but. There's no judgement. I just want people to know that it's ok to feel what you're feeling, and the things you find are the most healing and beneficial are the right things for you. You don't have to be grateful. You don't have to not not be grateful for your illness. Be as grateful, accepting of the things in your life as you can, and happy as you want or you can be. Or not.
I'm sick of feeling guilty that I'm not grateful that I'm sick.
I'm Natasha. I'm bloody ill and it sucks more than I can articulately put into words. But I'm working with it and doing the best that I can right now. And that's all anyone can do.