There is something each of us can do that no other person can. We absolutely must do these things. Or we fall apart.”
Fibromyalgia is a medical condition that affects more than three million Americans, possibly up to six million. The cause is unknown, and the list of symptoms varies from person to person, but I'll paraphrase for you: it basically makes you about fifty years older.
Joint pain, constant fatigue, cognitive dysfunction. It mostly affects women, usually in their middle years, but there have been individuals diagnosed as early as the onset of puberty.
I was one of these lucky kids.
I've lived with chronic pain since around the time I was eleven. Fibromyalgia, in 9 out of 10 cases, is accompanied by depression or other psychiatric problems. But I had a loving family, I had good friends, and there was a creek near my house! I was a happy kid, and my supportive family helped me cope with the symptoms. I grew up emotionally well-adjusted in spite of my physical limitations. I won't say it wasn't hard—but everybody grows up with some kind of hardship.
It didn't catch up with me until I was just finishing up college. I suspect that it was caused by the stress of my senior-year major coursework, but it's not always possible to pin down a reason for such things. My symptoms worsened by orders of magnitude, to the point that I could hardly function. It became so bad that I eventually couldn't go to class more than about one day in a week. I could hardly get my groceries, do my laundry.
I began to lose days. I would go for long periods of time without eating or sleeping and not notice. I almost totally lost my concept of time.
I didn't feel emotionally depressed; I hardly felt anything. I could barely move. And I came to the realization that over time I had drawn away from the people I cared about. There was no one who I was close with anymore. I did have people around who cared about me, but I was blind to their presence. I believed that I had no one to ask for help.
As I became more and more reclusive, I began to lose my sanity. I developed baseless paranoia, and began to desperately fear leaving my apartment. I was afraid of my mailbox. My symptoms finally jarred me to an epiphany: I was acting like a few of my family members who had exhibited the same symptoms. I didn't want to be Aunt Alice! I set my teeth, picked up the phone and called my parents.
They swooped down and rescued me. Unable to live independently, I moved back in with them. Right away they made sure I received psychiatric care. I started to take medication that cleared my mind, and went regularly to see a therapist. He was really good at his job, experienced. The best in town.
He earnestly tried, but he couldn't help me.
I was so deeply in despair, I think I only breathed involuntarily. I wasn't suicidal; I didn't even care enough to tie a noose. I never wanted anything, wouldn't pick up a dollar if I dropped it. I was never happy, but I was never angry either. I wasn't sad. Having experienced it, I can tell you that depression isn't really a condition of sadness.
It's like all the strings that connect you to the world are cut off completely. Words stop meaning any more than what they say. The deeper meanings that actions carry are lost on you. It's a kind of deafness. You're like a ghost; you get hungrier and hungrier for what you're missing. You try to connect to someone else, to feel something again, and it's like trying to eat without a mouth. But you never stop needing what you've lost.
And then, by chance, I found something.
A friend of my mother's invited our family over for dinner one evening. His wife is a studio artist, and she struck up a conversation with me. She is almost sixty years my senior, and she commanded a certain presence that I can't really describe. There was a palpable sense of life about her, and lacking anything like that myself, she somehow magnetically attracted me. She invited me to come back sometime soon to "do art" with her. Her paintings, hanging on the walls of her modest but comfortable home, were at once electrifying and calming, speaking of a deep inner harmony. Even I couldn't deny that I felt something from them. I agreed to come and visit her.
She set a rectangular piece of black paper in front of me on the table, along with a small box of oil pastels. She said, don't look. Don't think. She told me to pick up the first colors I noticed and use them. Nothing I could do could possibly be wrong; I could not make a mistake. I chose my colors and set to work, and as soon as the tip of that short stub of fire-engine red touched the paper, something magical happened.
A bright spark, a chemical reaction. It was like that dark page was a black hole, sucking some kind of poison out of me. But what appeared on the paper wasn't sickness—I had drawn a huge, red door.
I stood up and walked through it.
Human beings have a quality that no other creature in this world shares—the capacity for creative expression. Everyone needs to have a creative outlet. Neglecting this basic human need drives us to despair, because a part of us goes hungry. It emotionally crushes us to think that we will live and die without ever changing anything, without leaving our mark on the world. We are built to infuse our unique perspectives into the work of our hands, and to complete our work by sharing it with others. There is something each of us can do that no other person can. We absolutely must do these things.
Or we fall apart.
No medicine, no inspirational platitude could have healed me. I was the only one who could. In pouring myself into my work, I created a mirror. For the first time, I could see the woman I truly am. And I found that I can accept her, I can respect her. I can love her. And I watched her come to life.
You also have a spark inside of you. Maybe it's quilting, maybe it's cooking, maybe it's dancing, maybe it's gardening. You know exactly where to find it.
Don't look. You possess a vision that is clearer than anything your eyes could ever see.
Don't think. You possess an understanding far deeper than your intellect can reach.
Pick up a pencil and you will find that you can draw. Type out words, and you will find that you can write. If there's something you've always wanted to do—but never thought you had the skill, or never seemed to have the time—just do it already. You won't be able to leave this world without regrets if you never do it.