In March of 2015 blood tests revealed I had been living with mono, had adrenal fatigue, had a lazy thyroid gland that was functioning like a 3-legged horse in the Kentucky derby, and had vitamin d and vitamin b burnout. Also, I have symptoms of a borderline diabetic because of the stunted way my body produces insulin, which left me crashing after any meal with carbs, (imagine turkey coma on Thanksgiving day). So what does all this mean?
Think of a hypothetical powerhouse that supplies the power for an entire city. Now imagine that, slowly over time, the output from the powerhouse was ever so slightly reduced until almost every drop of power was cut off from the city. Because the process was so slow, no one really noticed until one day, they simply had no power at all.
This was my life, and it lasted two and half years. It crept up on me like a very slow poisoning. The only signs were that I was feeling more and more exhausted, a foggy memory, and an overwhelming anxiety at the idea of spending too much time with people. My wife and all my friends were convinced I was simply letting myself fully be the introvert I always told them I was. (Well my wife was showing more concern than that, but I ignored it, because turning my head the other way on something I couldn’t understand seemed easier than facing the problem head on.)
Growing up, when it came to sickness, my family functioned like an unstoppable tank. Unless you were pushing up daisies, you didn’t have an excuse to be in bed outside the hours of 9 pm to 6 am. Okay so my parents weren’t the Gestapo, there was some wiggle room, but not much.
When it came to body pain, the attitude was “Come on and suck it up, we have things to get done.”
My wife has had some major sickness in our time together, and I found myself very confused at her request in the beginning of our marriage for compassion when she wasn’t feeling well. Even more confusing was her show of concern towards me when I didn’t feel good. I could be up in the middle of the night vomiting and with great care she would pop into the bathroom to ask me if I was okay and if she could rub my back or do anything to take care of me.
To her surprise I wasn’t very receptive to her offerings as I told her to “Quit treating me like a baby and go back to bed.” Oh how I have learned from those foolish youthful moments.
Up until my own two and half-year physical trial, I had my own criticisms and judgments towards those “weak” people that give up and don’t know how to push through. It came out at my wife, (though I did pretty well at masking the depth of my contempt), co-workers, and anyone I deemed a whiny baby. Of course, out of all the people in my life, I showed myself the least compassion.
What I discovered is that where compassion has no value shame abounds.
As my powerhouse shut down I found myself incapable of pushing through. And before I knew what was actually happening, my relationships felt like one flaky failure after another. It began with cancelling hangouts, then not responding to text messages, then avoiding phone calls all together. With every missed birthday, social function, and last minute cancellation, the anxiety grew as I felt more and more like a failure. Soon my life was so foggy that I was missing the birth of my friends’ children and having no idea until months later that they had babies and I hadn’t even congratulated them.
Without a medical diagnosis, my lack of compassion only beat more shame into me. I had no way of explaining my behavior so I was using one excuse after another for why I “didn’t feel good” and walking away from each moment feeling like I was a terrible friend.
An underlying sense of fear kept me from pursuing answers to my problem and a lack of compassion stole my much-needed joy through the shame I was feeling.
This inability to seek answers kept me trapped feeling sick and isolated me from communicating my experience to the community that deeply loved me. Because of this I missed out on some much needed care and support.
As I found the answers to my sickness, and have fully recovered, I am left with a well of compassion for those who have found themselves sick and without any answers for themselves. It is through this compassion that I have been able to forgive Justin for his inability to push through and meet others’ expectations. This compassion has taught me to be fully okay with having nothing to offer others as they love me and accept me just as I am. It is this compassion that has produced a great depth of patience for others and for myself. It is this compassion that has broken the shame that weighed me down in this area for almost three years.
Compassion empowers patience and understanding. Compassion is the lighthouse that will lead you out of the fog of shame.
My challenge to you today is that if you can relate to a life of telling yourself and others to suck it up and get over it, take a moment to ask yourself, “Why don’t I have compassion, and how is my lack of compassion empowering shame when I’m not living up to my self-imposed expectations?”
You might just discover a much-needed key to giving and receiving love in your life.