A BLOG BY SHANNON FISHER
I am often asked how I have managed to maintain a positive attitude throughout my long, arduous and seemingly relentless ordeal with late-stage neurological Lyme Disease. While I normally keep my deeper emotions private, I will openly answer this question in earnest because it is possible that sharing my “secret” might help someone else manage his or her struggles. Plus, this question has been asked too many times to continue to be ignored.
Now, I do not claim to perpetually carry a demeanor of rainbows and sunshine; I have sporadic moments of misery just like everyone else. Those occasional lows notwithstanding, it is true that I have managed to preserve a rather steady positive outlook despite the fact that Lyme Disease has deeply affected nearly all areas of my life.
An email conversation with a colleague enabled me to further understand my own joy and strength by examining it in the context of another person’s life. Pat was going through the difficult process of grieving the loss of her life partner. She was lamenting the amount of time it was taking to find so much as a glimpse of happiness. Having been through a similar loss in 2007, I reached out to offer support and empathy. During this email exchange (portions of which are posted here on Pat’s blog), a light bulb sparked above my head and my as-of-yet-unarticulated-to-another-soul approach to obstacles in life easily rolled out of my fingers.
My note to her that night said, “I know what an emotional quagmire this can be. But please know that when you emerge on the other side of the grieving process, having survived that which seemed indomitable, you will feel the presence of strength in the core of your being. You will know that you can get through anything — including a long, painful wait. It took four years for me to come to terms with losing Dale, but – after those four years – I am no longer in a hurry for ANYTHING! Before that loss, I could barely wait for luggage at the airport without getting impatient….The years ahead don’t have to be lonely; you can never fill the void he left, but you can shift things inside as you process them. Defragment and make room for more love than you could ever anticipate. Yes, grief is a long and arduous process, but there is no way it can be avoided. Those who bury the emotions that come with such a profound loss (or simply try to ignore them) don’t ever come out on the other side. As time goes on, friends and family who have not been through this kind of amputation will not understand why you are still wallowing; they will say you need to ‘snap out of it.’ Rolling around in the mud of grief smells rancid, looks terrible, feels slimy and dries crusty — but when you eventually stand up, take a shower and throw away those soiled clothes – it is no longer possible to be bothered by a little scuff, splotch, scrape, rip or splatter. Never, ever again. ”
So, there you have it. My top secret method of overcoming adversity is patience, wallowing and defragmentation. The light bulb that sparked above my head during that conversation continues to help me navigate the intricate maze of life, revealing only a few steps at a time. The restlessness that once caused me to demand immediate answers to all of life’s questions is gone, making room for many more options as I walk along the path.
I learned patience by trudging through what seemed like a never-ending grieving process – only to realize that the pain did, in fact, eventually end. By processing each emotion as it appeared, and then neatly filing it with similar emotions (just like defragmenting a computer), I revealed a lot of uncluttered space inside myself that is now open and ready to give and receive. Not to say that the negative emotions didn’t pop up again, or that I didn’t want to rush them away when they did, but each time I wallowed and re-processed the emotions, they moved closer and closer to their permanent filing place.
So, what does all of this have to do with Lyme Disease? Grief is grief, and so is illness. It is because I learned patience through grief that I am accepting of the fact that my journey back to health has been and will continue to be a long one. I trust that I will emerge on the other side of this ordeal even stronger, having already once waded through a quagmire. The vast space that opened within me has been been filled with family, friends, writing, spiritual practice and women’s rights advocacy. Nothing is perfect, but this seems to work pretty well for me.