As I write this it has been a year and a month since I was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis. RA, along with all autoimmune diseases, are “invisible” therefore to the outside eye you look well but internally your body is fighting itself and there is little you can do about it. I was diagnosed at the height of the pandemic, working from home for an organization that compounded the stress I already held as a mental health professional ushering clients through one of the most traumatic and heartbreaking times in our country’s history. This stress was also intensified by the racial dis-ease the permeated and still permeates our country. One thing told across the board when managing any illness, is that stress makes everything worse! I could not readily walk away from my job at that time due to contractual obligations, and of course, I could not defect nor change the skin I’m in. What I learned to do however is to embrace being “good enough” and stay entuned with what my body was calling for.
The aforementioned required allowing myself to “let go” of others’ expectations of me, including my own. Yes, you read that right, including my own. Perfectionism is a disease unto itself; not to mention a petri tray for anxiety. Always striving to move in a spirit of excellence, I know at times I’ve pushed myself harder than I ought, this is also steeped in cultural narratives that often require those who are brown to “prove” their place in spaces not readily welcoming of us. What the pandemic and autoimmune disease taught me is that to get through this, I would have to “let go” of what used to be in order to discover what was necessary now and certainly how best to set up for the future.
I have since removed myself from being a public health therapist. I remain grateful for every client I met along the way and the work we were afforded to do. Since moving into the private sector, I have been able to be more intentional about how my time is used and my commitments. I get to pace myself, allow space for rest, and certainly have decreased my stress level. In managing the new normal here again is where I learned from many of the clients I worked with throughout the years. With chronic illness, there are other ailments that commonly emerge like depression, anxiety, even PTSD steeped in medical trauma from constantly being in a state of the unknown, tests, procedures, medications, etc. As a therapist, I have always done my best to lend space for clients to acknowledge the fear and other feelings that arise, yet also have presented an invitation to explore what is within their control. Even if terminal, safe space was provided for them to communicate how they wanted to spend the rest of their life.
What I have learned is, it is in my control to show up in my life in ways that are meaningful to me and that build meaning with those I love. I practice gratitude daily, giving thanks for the smallest of things and often in areas that to the average eye would not be a big deal. An example of such would be my son’s school abruptly canceling the day due to a shortage of teacher coverage. If I remained employed by someone, I would have had to call out, explain what was needed for my family at that moment. In private practice, although still inconvenient I was able to plan a day to teach him at home and add in some fun. I smile as I write that, it reminds me of an exchange Monica (Sanaa Lathan) has with her mother Camille (Alfee Woodard) in the kitchen about priorities in my favorite movie “Love and Basketball.”
In letting go of the past, reshaping my vision, I’ve found new freedom and fullness of life. Even as I face health battles having a quality-filled life is priceless. Quality of life for me includes being able to address the needs of myself and my family just as I have and continue to do for my clients. There are 20 days left to 2021, what do you need to let go to move toward the quality of life you desire? What do you need to let go in order to show up in the world authentically you, moving forward in wellness and wholeness unapologetically?
May Your Hope Be Full,
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