Title lyrics: Guster (hugely underrated band)
So lately I’ve been thinking about honesty; that wonderful but sometimes uncomfortable thing which politicians don’t have to concern themselves with.
I wrote a while ago that chronic fatigue is a brutally effective teacher, and it certainly makes an honest man (or woman) out of you. I’ve found that just about any self-denial towards my situation results in my health declining. Most commonly, this is when I tell myself that I’m doing better than I really am and then promptly try to do more than I’m capable of…which swiftly results in being consigned to the sofa (or bed) in some sort of hangover-like state. Sometimes previously I’ve clung onto things that are ludicrously beyond me simply out of denial.
It’s not just fatigue. Back when I was doing a lot of mental health work I used to see that being honest with oneself was a massive obstacle. We would discuss how the first step towards recovery was being honest; overcoming that tendency towards to denial. Only by admitting we have a problem can we actually start to resolve it. Physical health is no different – how often do you see people ignore symptoms of something until they’re in so much discomfort that they have no choice but to go to the doctor? How often do people react defensively when it’s pointed out to them (often out of concern) that perhaps they drink or eat too much? Denial is present everywhere.
Denial comes to the fore sometimes in our daily lives – how we feel about our job, our relationships, how tired we are… And a lot of us seem to cling on to some degree of denial over our past, and the painful things we’ve experienced. If our dedication to solving our problems was as great our dedication to denying them, we’d be a lot better off – both individually and collectively. That instinct for denial is a mighty powerful force in holding sway over man’s behaviour – arguably rivalled only by the rhythm of Shakira’s hips.
In my efforts to recover, I’ve tried to be as honest with myself as possible – about my situation and about all the things (past or present) that might be holding me back. It’s hard. The truth can be awfully painful, and compel us to take actions which make us deeply uncomfortable.
It is rather liberating though. Now I can see how exhausting it is trying to present a picture to yourself to others that isn’t really authentic. I used to be terribly guilty of doing this. When something difficult would happen to me I’d basically quash the negative emotions it would make me feel, and feed myself and other people some well-versed BS about how all difficult experiences are simply a lesson, and that I was taking it in my stride etc. Sometimes things are just painful and you’ve got to acknowledge that and allow them in fully before being genuinely able to take anything positive out of it. Sometimes there isn’t anything positive to be taken out of it, aside from merely experiencing that moment with sincerity and openness.
Recovery from this weird illness is not a smooth ride. Sometimes I feel like I stagnate, sometimes I feel like I go backwards. Most of the time I’m going forwards. Along the way it feels like there’s been a lot of mini-breakthroughs. Recently I feel like there’s been a shift in genuinely acknowledging what is and isn’t good for my health. I notice how I make lots of small, subtle decisions differently as a consequence, and I feel the way that my body is grateful for it.
Something I didn’t expect is how overcoming my own denial has changed my view of the past. For much of my recovery I’ve been quite level – to an extent where my fatigue mentor used to wind me up about whether I was actually human. I used to prattle on about how it was all just one big learning curve, and I that I was basically bossing it (I definitely wasn’t).
Once I made the shift to stop bullshitting myself, it became pretty clear I hadn’t been level, but a lot of the emotion had been pushed away somewhere – suppressed. As I wrote about last time out, there have been phases where I’ve felt so so angry. Times when I’ve been furious at my situation, and at all the time I feel I’ve lost to my illness. I recall how it felt …unjust that my body had so spectacularly given up like this, when I had seen so many of my peers neglect their health to a greater extent than I had.
They weren’t much fun, those phases, but I always felt better for it after. And it’s such a relief not to be trying to give the impression all the time that I’m totally great with my situation. There are times when I’ve felt so exhausted, so uncomfortable and it irks me that this condition that is causing so much suffering is still surrounded by the amount of scepticism and misunderstanding that it is. At times I’ve wondered how long this has to go on for, before I feel fully healthy again. I hate not having my independence. There’s always a degree of guilt that my parents have had to help out so much financially. In spite of all that…I can accept that this is the way all it feels, even if I sometimes don’t like it. It’s just… human. Looking back, I think for a long time I’ve been trying to be more than that.
Being more open about the unpleasant things has, unsurprisingly, brought a number of positive sides to it as well.
When you block out some of your experience of the world, you can’t see the full picture. By blocking out negative feelings, you lose some of the positive ones too. The only way I can explain it is that it feels now like my world has more colour – I can see so many more subtle shades I never knew existed. Life becomes richer, more diverse. And I’m more tuned into what I genuinely fear and desire, rather than what I think I should desire. The truth can be very surprising…!
There’s still much more to come, and I feel more trusting now of myself – and others.
I think a lot of us fear, at some level, that by being totally and genuinely ourselves other people will reject us.
They won’t – at least not the ones that matter.