Limits. We don't like them. We don't want to be told by anyone - not even ourselves - what we can or can't do. That each of us will eventually hit a wall at some point.
While working on my previous post on illness and beauty/body image, I had several conversations with different friends, and one of the topics that people kept really honing in on was denial. An email exchange with a friend turned into a long rant on my part, and I thought it was worth sharing, so I've fleshed it out into this post - I feel like it's an important awareness to develop.
It's shocking how deeply, and for how long, we can deny the severity of our own illness - and in turn continually allow other people to invalidate or minimize what we're going through. It leads to us forcing ourselves to function above our capabilities, inevitably exacerbating our illness(es) and symptoms sometimes making us so much sicker in the end, that we may no longer be able to recover fully.
I have certainly felt grateful in a way for having to jump ship on my old life. It has given me the ability to reconnect with what I really love and what my purpose is. But it's also given me something less easy to see as a gift: the opportunity to slow down and recognize, admit, and work on accepting (and more importantly adapting to) my limits.
Loss can bring unexpected freedom
Not all kinds of loss have a silver lining. Let's just get that out there. And trust me, I know all too intimately what it feels like - to lose your health, your independence, your ability to function as a "normal" person in the world...
But one of the great revelations I had, partly through reading How to be Sick (I cannot recommend this book enough if you're interested in learning to live with chronic illness in a more peaceful way) is that even if we HATE being sick and would give anything to be well again, we can still identify benefits we get from it. They are often things we don't want to admit - things that are "socially unacceptable".
For example, being sick might allow us to excuse ourselves from social engagements we felt obligated to participate in, but never really enjoyed. Or it might allow us to take a break from or permanently leave a job that we were good at but was very stressful. Or like for me, it might allow us the time and space to realize we had gotten way off course from what we envisioned for our lives, and consider what we are still able to do to live more in line with our truths.
Specific losses might have other specific silver linings. Losing friends who weren't able to be with what was going on with you might let you conserve a lot of energy, and then later find people who really understand you in the context of your present reality. Losing the ability to do much physical activity might force us off our respective hamster wheels, to slow down and be still. We may even find new activities to do that match our new realities, that we end up loving. Meditation, yoga, art, reading, writing, creating health-promoting recipes... there are countless people online who are now making their living based on passions they discovered through illness.
The point is - whatever you have lost, no matter how much it has hurt and sucked, try and find a way to at least love the flipsides that work for you. It's a little way to feel like you haven't lost everything.
It was this realization that inspired one of my Heartgirl drawings:
Limitations are part of reality
"Limit" may as well be a curse word these days. And "can't" is the four letter word.
Here are a few examples of quotes from the anti-limitations self helpsters:
The power of "can't": The word "can't" makes strong people weak, blinds people who can see, saddens happy people, turns brave people into cowards, robs a genius of their brilliance, causes rich people to think poorly, and limits the achievements of that great person living inside us all. - Robert T. Kiyosaki (aka. "Rich Dad, Poor Dad")
Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're always 100% right. - Greg Hickman
Attitude. That is your tendency to evaluate things based on your perception. If you think you can't, that is a negative attitude parcel and opening it will reveal what you believe. - Israelmore Ayivor
Never say that you can't do something, or that something seems impossible, or that something can't be done, no matter how discouraging or harrowing it may be; human beings are limited only by what we allow ourselves to be limited by: our own minds. We are each the masters of our own reality; when we become self-aware to this: absolutely anything in the world is possible. - Mike Norton
Master yourself, and become king of the world around you. Let no odds, chastisement, exile, doubt, fear, or ANY mental virii prevent you from accomplishing your dreams. Never be a victim of life; be it's conqueror. - Mike Norton
Four-letter words have always offended me. I cringe at hearing them. Can't, don't, and won't are the worst. - Richelle E. Goodrich
Never say 'I can't.' 'I can't' is a limit, and life is about breaking through limits. Say 'I will' instead. - Heather Vogel Frederick
Stop Saying I Can’t. You Can, You Just Choose Not To. - Unknown
I could go on and on, but I won't. My point is that this mentality is pervasive, and it's utter BULLSHIT.
The idea that if you want it enough, have the "right" kind of energy, read the right books, and take the right e-courses, anything is possible, is all over the place. The gurus and authors who have supposedly got it all figured out, tell you it's wrong to believe you have any kind of limitations or restrictions.
I actually find that kind of attitude to be extremely ego-centered, and a way of remaining in denial. The idea that if "I" desire something enough, "I" will have it. This is NOT TRUE! And for people who do have limits, as soon as we allow ourselves to slip into that mindset and start acting in line with that, you just know we will get a universal smackdown in the form of sickness. Not only that, but it keeps us closed off to the unexpected gifts loss may bring.
In my world, there is a song on loop, and the song is: let go... you can't control this... accept... surrender.
Maya Angelou is the only one I found talking about "can't" who leaves space for reality:
If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. - Maya Angelou
She acknowledges that there are things that cannot be changed. And then she suggests changing attitude instead, but she does not instruct denial of "can't", she accepts it and moves on.
Acceptance and adapting
So, now what? That is the question. First the hardest: acceptance. Get really clear about your limits and accept them. Stop fighting what is, you are only fighting reality. Surrender to the existence of your limits. This is the only place from which you can truly start the journey of adapting, and when you accept and adapt, you can find a new way of living filled with a lot more peace.
The time I've had due to being sick has given me the gift of actually finding something that brings me back to life. And the truth is that not being able to throw myself into it 150%...it can be maddening! I know I am not the only one feeling this. Especially seeing how many of us - people struggling with long term complex chronic illnesses and/or mental illness - are very often (recovering) go-getters, perfectionists, and Type-A people. Overachieving is an incredibly hard habit to break, as it usually comes from long standing wounds to our sense-of self and self esteem. We still have something to prove and have trouble just being.
I feel like I finally found (well, more like allowed/admitted) what I am really meant to do. I love it, it makes my heart burst, and I want to sing from the hilltops. I want to conquer the art world, and take all the classes, and go to all the conferences, and make all the new friends, and immerse myself in all of it, and be a huge success, and make up for all the lost years that I "wasted" (of course, not really a waste, just part of the journey) not being an artist.
Alas. I cannot. I have limits. Hard limits. Non-negotiable needs. And no amount of wanting or wishing or visualizing or manifesting changes the fact that I. HAVE. LIMITS.
If you find your "passion" or your "calling" through your experience of illness, it's natural to want to share it with the world. But you also have to take care of the important thing in your life: yourself! Yes - you are the most important person in your own life. It's okay to admit right? A wise person once told me self care is not selfish!
In my life, the way I'm approaching this (and of course, slow like molasses, as is everything) is figuring out how to do work that I love and helps others without sacrificing myself. For me this means selling my art (drawings or prints) - but not selling things I sew or textile art (I love working with textiles, but it's far too hard on me physically to do for more than personal use/enjoyment). I might do illustration contracts if it ever becomes an option. But I probably won't teach in person classes - not unless I have some kind of miraculous recovery. I will not do anything that is physically demanding as part of my work, because I know that is pushing, and pushing is the quickest way to the limit smackdown. I am working on always keeping the demands of what I do flexible - so that when I am unwell, I can take care of myself. Pushing on the bad days just amplifies the smackdown by about 100000%, so it is critical that I factor that in.
It's all a matter of letting go of wanting to be able to do the most, and be the best at the thing that actually fits you. It's not fair, but it is honest. And there may well be other ways to share your gifts and insights that don't require so much personal sacrifice and pushing... When you accept the limits, it allows you to actually seek these new ways! It helps you figure out how to pace yourself (interesting pace --> peace), and take care of your needs on the days where you aren't functioning as well. Because you can't function at your best every day when you're not well. It's a limit.
Can't. Limits. The reason they're harped on is that they scare people. They get right at the core of the ego that believes we can have it all if we just push hard enough. That we are owed everything we want. They show us that we are vulnerable and not in control. But when you accept your limits, and when you accept reality, it's then that you can discover what is still possible.