It never occurred to me to consider what it means to be strong as a child. It wasn't part of the vocabulary of my life. It wasn’t until after I lost 100 pounds and started running marathons and lifting weights that I began to allow the idea of strength to settle in my mind and self image. But that was a mistake. My trainers at the gym would talk about building strength, but that was code for a self absorbed image in most cases.
It was my husband that first called me strong, at a time in my life when I truly felt weak. I had lost 100 lbs. I had run a full marathon and 5 half marathons in the five years prior. I could bench 135 lbs and squat 185 lbs. Still, I found myself sitting in yet another doctor's office hearing once again, “we can’t find anything wrong with you.”
I lost it. I passed out from the anxiety-literally-for the first time ever.
After I came to and we drove home, sitting in the kitchen, I looked at Jason and asked, “am I crazy?”
“No! You are the strongest person I know!” He didn’t say it from pity or obligation. He said it from a place of conviction. I felt his sincerity, but I couldn't hear it. "You see a goal and you don't quit, you give 120% to everything, you fight for what is good and right, you fight for people, you push beyond the limits..." He wouldn't stop.
In my heart, I knew my body. I knew my feelings and my mind. I knew my limits, but 24 months of uncertainty about what was actually "wrong" with me was undermining it all for me. The longer it went the more I allowed the voice in my head to begin to believe I was crazy. I truly had to fight that voice and trust myself, but I was losing. So, to protect myself and my heart, I began to separate myself from people who wanted to "diagnose" me from their own experiences, because whatever was wrong with me wasn't normal. "Maybe it is stress," people would say. Those words cut so deep...those four words undermined every ounce of my ability to live in the uncertainty.
It took 18 months after that day of passing out; it took 24 months in total to get a diagnosis - Tarlov Cysts Disorder. Once the 5th neurologist said the words out loud, I looked at her with tears rolling down my face.
The first and only words out of my mouth..."So I'm not crazy."
"No, you aren't crazy. If fact, your ability to persevere and advocate for yourself and trust yourself to keep asking questions shows me the very opposite. You are strong."
There was that word again. Strong.
Through this experience, I began to believe strength to be more than physical. I could no longer lift weights or run. It seemed that "being strong" was a value I wanted to possess, but it was being reshaped in my beliefs. It meant asking for help, trusting yourself, doing the hard thing, being open to change and grief. It meant, NOT being a rock all the time. It meant bending and hearing. Strength isn't something you "possess," but rather it seemed to be more of an approach to life and trust. But like all things, as humans, we waiver.
And now, in the midst of Covid, I am once again finding it difficult to understand what strength is and to trust my feelings. Anybody else? I am finding it difficult to give myself permission to sit...to be still...to abide...to dwell. I am finding it difficult to know what my next move should be, how to define a goal and what a reasonable expectation is for any goal set.
So, I have been trying to dig deeper. I have been trying to remind myself what got me through those 24 months - and honestly the 2 years of grief that followed. There were lots of things, but I will share that which is most prominent in my mind today.
The weekend I met Jason's parents, I found myself in a hospital room with Grandma Schafer, who I had known for less than 24 hours, as she awaited the word about whether or not Grandpa Schafer had survived what looked like a heart attack that morning. She pulled a Bible from her purse and opened it to Psalm 146.
"Read it," she said. So, I did.
"Again," she said. So, I did.
And so it went, again and again...until the doctor came in to share the news with her. Grandpa Schafer had died. "Read it again."
If you are feeling the undermining effects of Covid and the current state of the world; if you aren't feeling strong these days, I offer this to you now.
Read it. Read it again.
Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul.
I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
The Lord reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord.
PS. I don't like or advocate for using the word "crazy" to describe people, but this post is an honest experience, and so it stays.