I thought that being sick with an unknown virus for seven weeks in the summer was bad. I was couch-ridden, exhausted, dizzy, nauseous, and thoroughly miserable. I would rally strength here and there to run an errand, then collapse again for days. The sickness never ended. The doctors couldn’t help (I saw two), there were no meds to take, and here I was with a book to finish and some freelance writing to do. Then I learned that I was doing it all wrong.
A few weeks ago, somebody put a price tag on my success. Apparently, it was a zero followed by a dot and two more zeroes. That person felt that if I labeled my disability, I penned myself in by it—that it defined me and limited me. I argued that labels empowered me. By defining my limitations, labels helped me find solutions. I also tried to explain that I successfully managed my depression because I constantly fought it off. The person then implied that since I was poor, I wasn’t very successful. As far as they were concerned, solutions needed to involve income, and since I didn’t have much money, I hadn’t solved anything at all. Of course, I’m taking exaggerative liberties with the conversation, but that’s the gist of it.
It’s not the first time that I’ve been told that I’m limiting myself by my mental health labels, though putting a dollar value to all forms of success was a new one for me. I feel that the stigma of mental health is so odious to some of these people that if I go ahead and embrace my problem openly, then they think there must be something wrong with me…without any trace of irony in that thought. They truly insist that all my problems would go away if I just stopped focusing on them. Head, meet sand.
I’m a big boy. I can handle opposing viewpoints. In fact, I even welcome them. Having somebody challenge me intellectually and not be intimidated by me can be very refreshing. Where I erred that day was in believing that the conversation didn’t bother me. I stayed up all night afterwards troubled by it.
The truth is that I’m very self-conscious about my finances. Life has been a struggle since my divorce, and I haven’t found my footing yet. Having somebody point my lack of fiscal success out to me–even if they meant well–turned me up inside. When I get sick, my tic disorder gets worse. When sickness lingers for weeks, the amount of work I get done dwindles like a campfire in a downpour. Is it any surprise that losing the entire month of July has left me discouraged? Is it so hard to accept that some people have weaker immunity systems than others? Like some people are born tall and beautiful, and some people are born that look like me? (That was a joke. I'm dashing and handsome, and have you seen my hair? Gorgeous. But one of my daughters didn't realize I was kidding and was hurt by that comment, so here is my disclaimer.) Genetics is the roll of the dice at the moment we are conceived. Some of us can’t fight off illness with the toss of the head and a chuckle. Some of us with clinical depression find our immunity systems impeded. It’s not make-believe. I’m not sure why that is so hard to understand for some people.
Oh, sickness! My love and joy. If you think I am discouraged because somebody criticized my life, you are being too hasty. I get that sort of “advice” all the time. Everybody’s an expert on my life. They never call, they never write, but if I could just stop defending myself for a moment, they’ll happily solve my problems for me on a brief moment they set aside for me. I’m sure you can relate. Frankly, I place seven weeks of viral hell a little heavier on the self-worth scale than the tag team of condemnation & disapproval. After all, as ham-fisted as people’s advice is, they mean well. Viruses, on the other hand, just want to kill me.
What a miserable seven weeks. I finally summoned up the energy to go on a bike ride in the middle of July, but gave myself an umbilical hernia for the effort. Yes, for real. July has been a banner month. I had large goals to achieve. Instead, I watched a large amount of TV in a lethargic lump of "lazy" illness.
So, yes, I am discouraged, but I am not defeated. As penance for being a living summer resort for viruses, I have spent the past week working on my book. Soon I will be ready to prove my value to society. You see, it is hard to sell a book to you if I keep it littered on my hard drive like a brilliant pile of leaves. Once my book is published, then I can let everybody know that I have real value—all quantified by sales and bank balances. Maybe the price tag on my success will cover pizza for a night, or maybe it will amount to more. Who cares, as long as there’s a dollar value? After all, of what value is keeping your chin up and fighting disability when your disability is a figment of your imagination and there are pennies to count?
Fortunately, I don’t truly believe that way. So here is proof that I am fighting: my first blog since June. I want you to know that just because somebody has a limited understanding of hardship doesn’t mean that your struggle is imaginary. Keep that chin up, keep carving out positive moments in your life, and don’t let depression succeed in putting you down where other people have failed.
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