Over the past few days, I've been reading a lot of articles, emails and blog posts about Paris Hilton and I noticed a common thread running through them.
A lot of talk about an obligation to be a "productive member of society." Whether it's Paris Hilton's wealth or a non-visible disability such as mine causing someone to not be out there producing, the attitude seems to be the same.
I've been dealing with a disability that knocked me out of commission in 2004 when I was only 52 and by some perception far too young to not be able to be "out there". While I may not have been "out there" very effectively, at least it appeared that I was a "productive member of society". That seemed to satisfy others.
As my limitations progressed, I had to do a lot of re-defining of many things I thought I once understood about myself and life in general. It also included letting go of all the old definitions I'd bought into about who we really are and what is and is not important.
I had to let go of the deeply-ingrained belief that I am what I do and I am what I have. Given my upbringing and further indoctrination in the corporate world, my self worth was totally tied to what I could do and what material proof I could collect and hang on to that proved to the outside world that I was a worthy person.
Not. Easy. At. All. Not in a society that tends to measure everyone's worth that way. But I didn't like the alternative much which was to see myself as worthless because my body and mind had both quit on me. I couldn't keep up with "out there" anymore.
I had to figure out what out there really is ... that world I could no longer be a part of without a fully functional body and mind. The world of paid professional performance and the status of title and good pay. The world of freely-chosen activity, the world of acceptance and automatic respect from others as a "fully productive" citizen of this country.
I wasn't about to let go of that so I just kept pumping up my confidence and strong will, and pushing myself mercilessly right past all of my very real limitations for way too long, causing, (you guessed it) even more damage until my two choices were disability or suicide.
So for me anyway, there was a serious downside to relying on the power of my will to "stay out there" and to all that positive thinking and confidence boosting. I used it to deny a solid reality I simply did not want to face. My spirit was sending me desperate signals that it was hurt and tired and needing me to stop whipping it into action it simply could no longer sustain and I refused to listen.
Now I am understanding a lot of things differently. I understand that I need to truly partner up with my spirit ~ as it is ~ rather than beat her up for no longer being what she once was.
I need this body to last me as long as I am here and it needs a voice, too. It needs me to listen to what it says it can and can not do on any given day. It needs to be respected. It needs me to listen now and provide what it needs on a regular basis so it can keep hauling me around for a lot more years.
My spirit was very nearly dead by the time I stopped. I also needed to partner up with her and to understand that her needs are just as important as physical needs.
Most of all, she needs my compassion, my love and my gratitude for all those years she served me without any real care or nurturing and in spite of the incredible neglect and abuse I heaped on her for a half century. She has faithfully stayed with me, damage notwithstanding.
My definition of "confidence" has been drastically altered. Now my confidence comes from the proof I am collecting in my ability to shift with life as it shifts, from one stage to another, from one condition to another, from one definition of what my reality is today, to another.
I have confidence now that whatever happens next, I will, after going though whatever messy, noisy, angry transition it requires of me, find a way to adapt and adjust and eventually learn to enjoy what is to the absolute max, no matter how anyone else measures my "worth".
I think what I am finally discovering is that that my "out there" isn't out there at all. It's in here ~ inside of me ~ where all my own truths dwell, where no one and no event can ever take them away again. (Well, maybe for a shaky sad day or two but not for long.)
It's like a high wire act to find that thin line between giving in too soon to the body's limitations as they get tired or hurt or older, and pushing them too hard and causing more harm. It's been trial and error all the way.
But I do notice the stronger more mutually respectful and loving relationship I can build between my body, mind and spirit, the better I feel.
Eventually, we all have to do this one way or another. The prevalent attitudes must be challenged, whether it is Paris Hilton or Josephine Everyone. We never know another person's limitations or abilities and it's time to let that judgment go.