The thing about chronic illness is that it never leaves you alone. Never. It's always there, the dragon inside. Sometimes it's like a sleeping dragon. You can go about your business, accomplish a thing or two and come across as 'normal'. But you're not. You're not normal. You're not who you once were, and no matter how 'normal' you act, you can never forget about the dragon.
The dragon isn't gone. You know it isn't gone. It's just sleeping. Like a mother with a new born babe, you are constantly worried that something will wake it. Only unlike the baby, your dragon never wakes happy. When your dragon wakes he is angry. Always angry. He attacks without warning, sometimes without provocation.
These attacks can go on for days. Your dragon is relentless. He shows no mercy. Most of the time, you fight with a smile. Your battle is waged unseen by the world. Why hide it? Why not shout it from the roof tops, "Help! I am losing this battle!" Why not tell people about your pain? It's that dragon. The pain he causes you makes other people uncomfortable too. He doesn't just hurt you. He isolates you. Wrapped in your pain, you quietly battle. Quietly conquer. Quietly drown.
No one knows how to react to the dragon inside; unless they have one too. Platitudes. Cliches. If you have a dragon, I bet you've heard them all. You tell yourself people mean well. "You'll beat this thing." "You'll be better soon." "They're always doing more research." "You don't look sick." You learn to smile. You swallow the dragon. You shut him down when he wants to yell, "NO! I will NOT get better. Not ever!" You smile. You give a friendly nod. Most of the time you just carry on in-spite of the dragon.
Until, without warning, he breaks you. All the pieces you've fought so hard to hold together just shatter. That's when you cry. That's when you're angry. That's when you just can't do 'it'. Whatever 'it' is. The other day my daughter said to me, "Do you think you can try and feel better so our family can be fun again?" One point to the dragon. My seven-year-old prays, "And please bless my mom. Take away this disease so she won't hurt anymore." One point to the dragon. I never wanted my kids to see me as sick.
I've been broken for a while now. The dragon won. I am well and truly shattered. As I started gathering my pieces, someone said to me, "Just remember, God never gives you more than you can handle." And I got angry. I thought, "That's the biggest bunch of crap I've ever heard." I can't handle this. There's no way I can, and there's no way God thought I could. And it wouldn't leave me, that sentence was on repeat inside of me and I hated it!
At long last I figured out why. It's because that statement is a lie. God can, and does, give me more than I can handle. For some reason, we've wrongly singularized that statement. It should read, "God will never give me more than WE can handle." Me and God. Together.
It is this realization that helped me start picking up the pieces this time around. I'm slowly fitting them back together. I'm trying to find the courage to have hope again. I'm forcing the dragon out of my heart, out of my mind. I'm trying to be stronger, more faithful, more grateful for the little victories.
I am learning to live in peace with the dragon. My dragon. He lives inside of me. Waiting for his time to awaken and attack. He ensures that I will always let people down, that I will never be reliable, that I can no longer plan ahead with any degree of confidence. He blows a fog into my brain. Where I was once sharp and intelligent, I am now forgetful and slow. In his supreme act of cruelty, my dragon has left intact my memory of who I used to be. I can clearly remember her. Her energy. Her spontaneity. Her joy. I grieve for her.
Once in a great while the old me shows up for a day. Those days are a blessing. And then a curse. A cutting reminder of everything I no longer am. One, maybe two, days of light followed by despair. Hidden tears. Grief, fresh and raw. I miss her. She makes her family happier than I do. She contributes in a way I cannot. She is more. Her visits leave me feeling like so much less.
I am learning to redefine my sense of worth. My doctor gave me some advice. "Stop trying to be exceptional. Shoot for mediocre." Mediocrity feels like a lofty goal.
Today my dragon is awake. He wages his war. He stops me from sleeping, from walking, from cutting my food, from holding a pencil. He is relentless. Without mercy he steals my life away. I can only hope that I am stronger than he as I wait for him to sleep again.