Are you impatient for change? I’m not surprised. We live in a society that first tells us we are not enough and then teaches us that change is easy, quick and available right now.
We’re bombarded by quick-fixes, and we reach for them: medicine that’ll get us back on our feet again; the shiny car that’ll solve all our problems; the must-read book that will reveal a new us and the higher paying job that’ll turn the world from black to gold. Society tells us it knows how to fix us. And we want to believe it – it’s easier to absolve responsibility for ourselves and our lives, than have to deal with the fact that we hurt, we long and that’s messy and might take time and trouble to sort out.
In the back of my old barn in Northern Italy, there’s a field.
During the summer, it fills up with bristly weeds of a seemingly infinite variety and color, with flowers and thistles and thorns. I have to beg my husband not to grab the weed-whacker and take the whole thing down. An ancient rosemary plant has attached itself to the 200 year old stone wall of the barn; next to it a sage bush has grown to the size of a small car.
I reached up and rubbed my eyes. The glare from the screen stung them fiercely and I was developing an epic crick in my neck. I had redesigned this poster maybe 10 – 15 times. I put the final touches on it, printed it out, and took it to be approved. “It looks too sad,” she said to me with the calm demeanor of a Zen master.
“But the event is about medical professionals that need relief from stress and grief. I used this picture because I thought they would identify with a picture of a doctor who looks worn out.” I replied. “I understand that, but it still looks too sad.” That was all she had to say. I knew there was no point in arguing with her further. Once she made up her mind it wasn’t worth arguing about. So, I went back to my desk and started to work on a new revision.
As a young adult, I had a nasty habit that I detested with all my being. I had a quick temper. I could easily lose my cool at the slightest insult and would snap at the people I loved. It didn’t matter if my behavior was justified or not, hurtful words just flew out of my mouth. Perhaps worse, over time I became cold and distant to many people without explaining why. This baffled many family and friends, and I lost genuine relationships over my behavior.
When I finally owned up to my anger problem during my senior year of college, I found it hard to change. I saw counselors that gave me relaxation techniques, but I did not use them consistently. I read books and articles about ways to cool my temper, but only followed that advice sporadically. I would be okay for a week or two, and then something would set me off, and I’d feel guilty for not being able to control my feelings. I felt trapped by my own personality, and I began to hate who I had become.
When I was born, something strange happened. I didn’t cry. The doctors thought I was dead.
Alarmed, they picked and prodded at me to see what was going on. After a few moments of their panicking, I started to cry. I was not dead. I was born asleep.
In some ways, I stayed asleep for the first twenty-four years of my life.
Twice in my life I’ve had unwanted, seismic change forced on me. The first was when I had a breakdown aged 30; a breakdown that left me without a clue who I was or where I was, and that unravelled my patterns of thought so fundamentally that I was unable to understand the simplest conversations.
The second was when I was diagnosed with M.E./CFS in 2008, a chronic, incurable illness that’s with me right now. They were changes of the worst kind; unwanted, unwelcome and, at first glance, unacceptable.