Survival Mode

Life sneaks past in shades of gray when a seemingly temporary survival mode slips into permanence. Suddenly its 4 years later and you’re waking up for the first time. The sky is brighter, the music is louder, the laughs are bigger, the smiles are kinder.

I reached a point where the patterns I learned to protect myself from imminent threat became the chains that kept me there.

It’s a strange paradigm shift and hard pill to swallow to understand that my coping skills to survive intense illness had snuck their way into my relationships, the core of my thought process, and the way I moved throughout the world. While physical health always demands some of my attention, the real physiological threat of illness had taken a backseat. Now I’m standing head in the sand, fists swinging at everything around me because that’s what I knew to do. Except the only things I was swinging at were sweet little birds, friends trying to say hello, and metaphoric opportunity.

The choice then became: keep doing it because its familiar even though it doesn’t feel like it is at all helpful anymore. Or stop. And I sat with that choice on my plate for probably 4 or 5 months, even though it seems like it should’ve been an easy one. Choosing ‘stop’ meant walking away from the only way I knew how to move through the world with chronic illness. I didn’t know ease; I didn’t even know that was an option honestly. I thought a diagnosis meant I was destined to live in a state of fight forever.

And I’m a really good fighter! I have had chances to prove that to myself that many people never get. I remember lying in bed in Los Angeles in the winter of 2018 when I was visited by a light (yes, the light). I’m in bed and can’t walk without help so there’s no running away from this. I was half awake, half asleep and began to feel a warmth from the depth of my soul travel out towards my arms and legs, fingers and toes, and out the crown of my head. I saw the most beautiful sunset over the ocean in vibrant oranges and yellows and was met by an overwhelming sense of peace. A deep voice broke through the sky and said, “you can rest now, you can come home, you will be okay, and your family will be okay”. And me, in my sad little sick body said, ‘bitch no’. The rest is history.

That fight is why I am here today, and now I’m faced with the choice to give it up. Choosing to lay it down for a path of less resistance and to bravely invite ease back into my life felt as scary as giving up the very life I fought so hard to live.

When I say ease, I don’t mean that life was just suddenly easy and I was going to take a back seat and enjoy the view. I mean that I was going to allow my body and brain to truly rest and reap the harvest of the work they’ve done. This also meant inviting more space and stillness into my life and acknowledging my spirit – who had been neglected for years and lost as collateral damage in the fight. Spirit felt like a stranger, I didn’t know her anymore, but I could feel her asking for a seat at the table.

So, I bravely invite her to sit. I don’t know what she has to say or how she desires to show up, but I let her instead of fighting to keep her silenced. I was scared she was going to ask even more of me when I was already dropping all the full plates I was juggling. Turns out she didn’t have much to say at all. She pulled up a chair and gave me the hug I needed and let me know we were going to be friends again. Allowing intuition to return to my life has been one of the things I am most proud of. I believe that mind, body, and spirit all need nourishment to allow access to deep-seated fulfillment. And now I’m in the fun part of figuring out what that looks like in my life.

So far it looks like going to Pilates wearing my favorite colors, walking my dog around the neighborhood I know and love, the occasional home improvement project, investing in new friendships, daydreaming about the future, breathing through the present, and crying. Crying a lot.

So maybe we’re never truly out of survival mode. Our brains need enrichment, our bodies need fed, our spirits need seen to survive. But survival mode can become something entirely different. Instead of simply keeping you alive, it becomes the tools you’ve built that allow you to thrive. Suddenly its morphing from a closed fist to an open hand. Disconnected mind, body, and spirit all demanding power take a step back, they see each other and remember they’re stronger united. The years of therapy and many (many, many, etc.) dollars invested have shown return as they’ve solidified as pillars of self-assuredness, commitment to continual exploration, and deep-seated trust in the unknown path created just for me.

I haven’t entirely said goodbye to the fight that ran the show for so long. Now he is called up to Team Captain on special occasions but does not demand the seat of power and knows when to step back and tell Ease that she’s back in the game.

It’s a delicate balance that changes by the day, and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had being this confused.

Here’s to mid-twenties, chronic illness, and commitment to live a full life.

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