Back in June, I rediscovered some poems and writings which I wrote years ago when I was in a really dark emotional place. I had finally gotten diagnosed with a chronic degenerative illness, my pain was not being managed, I had become depressed, anorexic, and ultimately suicidal. I was hospitalized more than a few times for my own safety. Through it all, I kept a journal so I could write out my unedited thoughts, free from judgment, and try to work through my jumbled and frightening feelings.
I was struggling with very serious questions: How was I going to live a life of disability and chronic pain? Could I accept what the future might bring? Did I really want to give up on life entirely? I was mired for many months of psychological self-torture as I grappled with how to surrender to the fact my life would never be the same.
During my last hospitalization, my thoughts really began to come into focus - rather like a kaleidoscope. At first, I could see all the bits and pieces of what I knew I needed to do, but I couldn’t see how to fit them all together. My perception kept shifting over and over, but I began to feel like I was getting close to reaching something profound.
|Flower Kaleidoscope photo by Michel Kotski|
As I read through those old journal pages today, I found it interesting that I wrote a rather desperate and agonized poem right after being admitted to the ward. However, by the next day, I began to organize the scattered, anguished images in the poem and to discern a new set of possibilities for myself. I just had to completely accept my illness and unknown future, and abandon all thoughts of throwing away my life.
These two writings, the poem and the following journal entry, show a progression of logic, hope, and faith. I believe sharing both of them could possibly resonate with someone else who is struggling in the same way, trapped in the identical emotional battle I was. If you are that person, I pray reading them will help you in your struggle.
Looking back now, it seemed impossible that any future I could have would be worth living. But let me say emphatically, however difficult things get or how much pain I have to endure, there is always joy in life. It is far to precious to squander. Trust me.
How Can I?
How can I rebuild my life
torn down by doubt and pain,
my dearest joys, desires, and hopes
eclipsed by illness' reign?
How can I let go of the past
when loss so raw and deep,
haunts and taunts me with what was,
both waking and asleep?
With rage and fear; guilt, grief, and hurt,
pounding waves stretched out before,
how can I reach the isle of hope
when I cannot see the shore?
The threat of more illness hovers near
how can I risk the chance,
of trying to move forward and
lose yet more independence?
How can I stem the angry tide
of resentment toward myself,
make peace with body, feelings, soul;
accept as worthy this damaged self?
How can I rebuild my life?
I desperately wish to believe
that there is hope, though I see none
and all I can do is grieve.
by Shannon Walker
Journal Entry, the following day:
How can I move on to a new life, without giving the old one its respect, a purposeful closing, a grieving for that forceably taken from my grasp? I think true promise - dare I say, even happiness? - can’t be born out of bitterness and holding on to “the way life was.” How can you move past that if you don’t grieve the losses, cry over your new limitations, lament the blows to your independence, and acknowledge the terror of an uncertain future?
Denying those feelings, suppressing them, will poison your attempts to move forward from the inside out. It seems to me that an underlying resentfulness, even victimhood, would taint your attitude toward your attempts at a new life. That resentfulness can only be slain with a true and honest grieving, a ritual cremation from which the phoenix of a new, hopeful, promising, and distinctly different life rises from the ashes of the old one.
I can’t even fathom what it will take to do this, or how long, or whether in truth I actually can achieve it. I just know I have to go through it so the phoenix can be born and spread its wings.
The people who tell me I shouldn’t think negative thoughts, or dwell on the past, or that others have it worse than me (and then tell me amazing stories of courage of people struck with illness and disability and how they overcame it) - this is NOT helpful. It invalidates my feelings, makes me feel guilty, and a bad, weak person. Those thoughts will not aid my journey to the phoenix of new life.
The grieving over the old life must run its course in its own time. The feelings are raw, deep, painful. I wish I could speed up the process to escape the overwhelm. But I must deal fully with putting my old life to rest before I can move on.
And yes, I’m sure I’ll have times in my new life - if I get there - when I’ll have painful memories and longings for the old life. But I hope, with my grieving complete, they will be fleeting or of short duration. And the new life, once firmly established, will surely have more exciting and pleasurable distractions of its own.
To read the other poetry I’ve posted on this blog, click below: