My friend, Sarah Markley, is a ridiculously good writer. She writes the kind of reflections that make me feel like I’m in her world; her words feel like they’re dripping off your tongue even when you’re reading silently to yourself.
And she makes me think. And ask hard questions. And reflect.
This week, Sarah has five guest bloggers writing about beauty on her blog, and she encouraged all of her readers to do the same this week. I read her post on beauty with the same interest I always have when looking at her words, and then I read her challenge to write about it ourselves.
I felt the flutter in my stomach. And I thought, “No, thank you. Couldn’t be a worse time for that. Not with the struggles I’ve had. Maybe next year, when Cushing’s is behind me and I can look in the mirror again more easily.”
And that’s exactly when I knew writing a post on beauty was in my immediate future. Because anything worth doing is worth doing scared.
I wrote about my struggle with how I look in a post called Unqualified. I’m going to repost it below to give you the background on where I’m coming from, and will write tomorrow about where I am now.
[originally posted August 23, 2009]
"In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there's no danger that we will confuse God's work with our own, or God's glory with our own."
— Madeleine L'Engle
I must be chosen, because I’ve never felt more unqualified in my whole life.
My friend Kelly and I have talked in the past about how illness has an insidious way of taking from people that which they least want to give. When her daughter, Kate, had brain cancer they knew her thick, curly hair would never grow back. When her dad was diagnosed with cancer, he lost the independence he so greatly valued… his ability to go for walks and play golf and be active. For me, well… I gradually lost almost every ability I had. At first the hardest for me was dancing… I’d have to leave weddings after the reception because watching everyone else on the dance floor was literally painful I missed the joy of it so much. But that was nothing compared to not being able to sing for people anymore.
My voice is still there, but my breathing isn’t. The pain of taking a breath is too much, and now that my whole world consists of life within these four walls, there’s no one to sing for anyway. I won’t again walk into my church and look into the eyes of a congregation as I connect to them through the spirit of the music.
And I’ve honestly learned to be ok with that. I miss so many things, but God has graced me with an acceptance of it. I don’t hurt for those things anymore and truly enjoy the memories of them. I’m so grateful to have had those experiences, and can look back on it all and see how very blessed I was to have enjoyed them while I did.
But right now, in this new challenge, I’m feeling intensely unqualified and I’m utterly lacking in acceptance.
When I was 16, I went through inpatient treatment for anorexia. It’s something I’ve managed throughout the years, but it’s also something that has never left me. I’ve never been able to change the way my mind sees myself, but I’ve learned to work around it. Like everything in life, we have choices… and I made the choice to do what I needed to do to be healthy and not let how my mind saw my reflection in the mirror dictate my actions. But I have always had to fight what I knew to be true compared to how I saw myself.
There was very little left for this disease to take from me, but since the Cushing’s set in I suddenly have been living my worst nightmare. Beyond the debilitating pain and sickness, it has completely altered my physical appearance. In the past three months I have ballooned by over fifty pounds, all of which is unevenly displaced in my face, neck and torso. I am absolutely unrecognizable. If someone I knew passed me on the street, it would never cross their mind that it was me.
And I have no idea how I’m supposed to be processing this.
Up to this point, I’ve been getting through it because I've focused more on everyone else than on me. It’s been about deciding if my friends’ kids should be able to see me or if it would be too confusing and upsetting. It’s been about changing how I react depending on who comes in the door [which has only been a handful of people, since I’m not comfortable being seen]. I see the pain in their faces, how long it takes them to look me in the eye, the way they try to fight back their tears or just let them flow because they can’t help it. I see my pain reflected in them and I try to change my demeanor to their reaction to try to ease it for them. One friend told me she knew she was avoiding visiting because it was so hard to look at me… it’s easier to pretend on the phone that I’m not as sick as I am, but it’s impossible in person.
I get it. It’s how I feel every time I walk by a mirror. It’s an insane reality to process.
I know how to change my reactions to try to help others… it’s myself I don’t know how to react to. It’s how I’m supposed to deal with the shock of my reflection, of not seeing myself, of feeling like I’m living in someone else’s body. I’ve spent the last few months pretty much immobile from the pain of the steroid reductions, and I’ve learned how to adjust and get through that. But the pain of losing the only self I’ve ever recognized… and figuring out how to cope with other people seeing that as well… I don’t know how to do that.
I’m completely unqualified.
That’s why I finally decided to write about it. I can’t think of why I’m meant to go through this unless maybe I’m meant to share it with you. Maybe it’s not about me… maybe I’m just the unqualified, chosen to tell you all about the struggle because it’s one more facet of illness that needs to be talked about. Or one more facet of life’s journey that is supposed to be shared.
I just have to keep reminding myself that in the end, what it all boils down to, is that none of this life is about me. It’s about what He needs from me. Thank God He’s qualified, because it means I don’t have to be. I just have to keep stepping forward in faith. So that’s what I’m trying to do.
So glad you all are stepping with me.