The meaning of strength

The last two days have been trying. Yesterday, a flare up started while I was at work and quickly got so bad that I could not keep my eyes open. Luckily I was already sitting on the comfortable couch of a good friend at the time. I was able to enter that state of waking sleep that my body demands at times like that without qualms. As things slowly improved, I asked for some soup and we propped me up and ate lunch together. When I had to leave for an off campus doctor’s appointment (something I couldn’t cancel) he found a nice piece of wood and drilled a hole in it and presto! I had a walking stick. Another friend gave me a ride to the doctor’s building, and the walking stick helped me get around where the car couldn’t.

Even with my gradual improvement and all of the help I had gotten, I was still very weak when I arrived at the doctor’s office. Each attempt to move was causing me to breath heavily, each attempt to rise making me dizzy. The staff kindly gave me a room to rest in until the doctor was ready to see me. When the flare finally began to fade, the change was rapid and striking. By the time I left the doctor’s office, I was walking and talking normally again, and I was not out of breath with every motion, even though I still was tiring easily.

All of this, I weathered with relative equanimity. I think that is primarily because I wasn’t in pain while it happened. In contrast, this morning was an experience that tested me on every front. Similar to yesterday, I could not keep my eyes open. But, in addition, my mind was consumed by the pain that filled my head, neck and shoulders and overwhelmed my ability to think. I just wanted to go hide in a hole somewhere where I could exist without obligation and escape my life and my body.

Why is it that after three years of this a bad day (or hour) still has the ability to make me feel hopeless and overwhelmed? I have dealt with being weak and in pain before, and therefore obviously can deal with it again. And yet, it feels impossible each time it gets this bad. I begin to doubt that I have the strength to get through Lyme disease, and that quickly expands into an all encompassing doubt that brings into question my ability to accomplish any of the goals that I have set myself. I want a way out, and I start to believe that if I just gave up I’d be able to escape all of this.

At moments like that, I desparately wish that someone else would give me strength. I want someone to say “you are strong” or “you can do this” or “you will feel better soon.” Right now nothing I know matters, and when right now ends, all that I have accomplished will come back to me. But in the midst of pain, what I need is not accomplishments. I just need to believe in myself, and in lieu of that, I need to know that others believe in me.

It’s already over. That’s why I can sit here and write this. I am a person again instead of a ball of sensation and emotion. I have perspective again, I can appreciate how lucky I am. I remember that just as courage is not defined by a lack of fear, strength is not defined by a lack of weakness. Both are simply the will to continue despite the difficulties.

So whatever it is you struggle with, let me take a moment to give you the affirmation I myself need at times: You are strong. You are powerful. You are courageous. When you feel weak, rememember as each moment passes you by, that simply by wading through that moment you are accomplishing something momentous. When you feel doubt, know that you are not alone. When you feel strong, revel in your strength and share it.

2 thoughts on “The meaning of strength

  1. I am so proud of my cousin Jennifer! Jen– Your post above is very poignant and telling. Thank you for sharing your inner-most thoughts and feelings with us. While you’re going through so much it’s incredible to me you can continue to give so much of yourself. I can’t for a moment claim to understand exactly what you’re going through, Jen, and how difficult it must be on so many levels. But I know this: I know you have strength and courage and determination. I know you have incredible character. And last but not least, I know you hail from fantastic genes on both sides of your family. I KNOW these things will see you through! We love you, Jen! –Steven (and Kate!)

  2. I am feeling encouraged today by your post. What you said about strength not being defined by a lack of weakness…really insightful and helpful for me and others I am sure.
    Thanks for your honesty and letting us in on your struggle with Lyme. It gives us hope and boosts our determination to keep moving forward.

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