I feel that the image of an unruly beast of fierce proportions best conveys just what place incapacitating chronic illness occupies in one’s life. This beastie is like a tantrum-prone toddler that keeps you in a state of constant vigilance for fear it will bring you down so low, getting back up might take longer than any healthy person can imagine.
The dragon entered my life in 2001 and when it struck, it left me in an unimaginable state of weakness. I thought I was dying. For the next three years I went from hospitals to doctors’ offices too many times to count. In the beginning, I got a “professional burnout” diagnosis, then a depression diagnosis, and finally it was decided I had fibromyalgia. I could not tolerate antidepressants and was told nothing could be done for me. I remember the day in 2005 when I visited an endocrinologist who specialized in ME/CFS. After a series of tests and visits to other specialists, she confirmed without a doubt that I had Myalgic Encephalomyalitis. “There’s no cure,” she said, “but some people do get better.”
From that day on, I have kept hope alive and I have gotten somewhat better. I am not yet cured but I have learned ways to make my life bearable with my managing my dragon. You could say I’ve become a dragon tamer.
Over the years, I’ve met many dragon tamers in Facebook support groups and have found tips to tame my dragon from others like me, who refuse to give up their power and who are committed to make changes in their life at a core level.
Of course, we all go through shock and grief beyond imagination when we realize that the life we knew is gone, when we experience disbelief from loved ones and doctors, when we lose friendships or see our life partner withdraw and abandon us. The dragon often takes it all. It crushes us and we can barely breathe. I was shell-shocked for a long time before it occurred to me that I could do something to come out of it. I got fed-up of being bullied by this illness and decided I had had enough. So, I looked the dragon in the face and declared: “ENOUGH!”
That was the day I became a dragon tamer. The first thing I did after standing up to it is understand that I am not this illness; I am just managing it. I declared my independence from my notions of being a worthless victim and began to see I am a person of value, and I have the ability to contribute something to this world. My perspective on life gradually transformed.
I accepted that I could tame a dragon, but forget about fighting it. If we aspire to become dragon tamers and have some amount of balance in our life, it is imperative that we put down our warrior weapons. Waging war is the last thing our body needs and the biggest obstacle to getting the dragon to cooperate; it will always overpower us. Hating our body and hating our illness (the dragon) will only bring us to the point where we hate our life and again, the beastie crushes us.
So, where to begin? By letting go. Giving in to a situation is not giving up; it is ending the process of resistance thereby releasing urgently needed energy that we can put to better use. Acceptance is an essential tool that we can use to reclaim power over our life, and is the first step toward balancing mind-body-spirit. Some say it is difficult to let go but in reality it is a simple choice that one makes and commits to applying in the moment, one moment at a time. Letting go of what you think your life should be, could be or will ever be is the kindest thing you can do for yourself. It is also your first step to taming the dragon. No need to put pressure on yourself; you’ll know when you’re ready to take that step on the path of healing.
See you on the path of healing . . . and beyond.
A trained psycho-social counselor and life coach, (and author of Higher Maintenance, published in 2016 by Balboa Press) Marianne Granger’s commitment to helping people led her to work as coordinator of a volunteer center, and years later, as director of a large food bank. While managing and training employees and volunteers, she wrote and edited promotional and fundraising material. Her love of reading, writing, and cinema lead her to study screenwriting, which culminated in a completed feature-length screenplay. In 2001, she was struck down by a mysterious and devastating chronic illness that eventually became the inspiration for her book. She lives with her husband in southern Canada.
You can follow Marianne on Facebook, Twitter, and her blog. To learn more about dragon taming, visit her website!
Illustration by Sophie Boulanger for Higher Maintenance