When the Cards Are Stacked against You, Reshuffle

 by Pam Curtis

I have heard people say time and time again that they don’t know how I do it. “That is entirely too much for a person to handle!” I’ve had one say. And yet to me, I can’t give it any credit. When I get taken over by these dire health moments, it’s luck and instinct. It has nothing to do with me. I’m just holding on! I’m not clever or wonderful in these moments. I’m just a living organism desperate to keep living. I believe every one of you would do just as well, if not better, in my shoes. You’d get the job done, and probably with less whining and kibitzing! I honestly wish I could shut up about all of this and just live life, but I’ve been unable to do so. Instead I’ve turned it into a blog so I can fake that all my complaining is respectable. Funny thing is, I accidently found a way to make it successful. (Sometimes it seems the only way I find success is to trip over it.)

I started this blog because I was miserable. In my mind, I was a wretched thing like something out of a Dickens nightmare. I was huddled in the darkness, alone and doomed. Then the other part of my mind kicked in. This part of my mind was more like the Ghost of Christmas Present, gentle and joyful. She laid a hand on that wretched child’s shoulder and said, “Now see here… You know you’re not the only one going through this and you know you don’t have it as bad as you could. If you want to learn how to do something yourself, try teaching it to someone else, remember? Now think… if you wanted to teach someone else how to get through this, how would you do it?” And like a dawn breaking, suddenly I wasn’t in the darkness. I was in a lecture hall. I wasn’t dressed in rags anymore; I was in a nice wool suit. And I also wasn’t a child… I was an adult, standing tall.

The lecture hall I had in mind was very specific. It was the lecture halls I had when I was a science major at Saint Louis University. There, the seats slope downwards like in a theater to accommodate class sizes of 300 students. But more importantly in my mind, I’d be lecturing from a point where the students look down at me. Yes, I’m the one lecturing. But I must always remember to present my teachings as a gift or an offering. Because in the end, it’s not my lecture that’s important. It’s what the students can make from it that is.

Suddenly, everything I’d suffered was of value. These weren’t just things I had to go through in my life. These were now things that I could use to help make someone else’s life better. It wasn’t just my loss. It was someone else’s gain. And then too, my inability to shut up about it suddenly became a boon. It was no longer embarrassing that I was an unabashed exhibitionist, ready to share the details of my personal life with strangers. Now, I’m an activist, inspiring others to share their experience, strength and hope as well!

How the heck did that happen?

One thing I will give myself credit for is that I refuse to surrender. Sometimes, that’s a terrible trait to have, especially when someone wants to be left alone! But like the title of this entry (given to me by my lovely cousin, Jeremy Diakonov-Curtis), I’ve decided to reshuffle the deck. The things that give me trouble I will use to make some good. The things I am terrible at, I will admit, so that others can know they’re not alone. Like any human being, I have my weak moments. And like most people, I underestimate my own abilities and don’t give myself enough credit.

It’s difficult to be kind to myself in a world where I have trouble fitting in and keeping up. My random yelps of pain and discomfort are disturbing to people. That’s not an unnatural response. And I feel guilty when I cause that discomfort in others. It would be as if I had picked my nose at the table. Not good! If you invite someone somewhere twenty times and it’s “no” every time, pretty soon, you just stop inviting. It doesn’t matter that the 21st time would have been “yes.” So I push myself to go out sometimes, when I know I shouldn’t, because I want to keep getting invitations. It’s these little, simple things that I fail at, that weigh so heavily on my soul.

Because from the outside, I know you can’t tell the difference. I look fine. Stunning, even, sometimes. I don’t look like there’s all this going on in my life. There’s no way to tell that I’m not just irresponsible and lazy. With other sick people, they know immediately. There are experiences that can’t be explained, but you can tell by the way they talk and act that they’ve actually been there. There’s a knowing. You can see the dark wisdom in their eyes. It’s like a “you had to be there” conversation. Do you get the… And then the… Oh! And sometimes…. And have you ever? It’s like meeting another member of a fan club, only it’s a fandom that no one wants to be a part of!

This illness has made me into someone that I don’t like, and that I have trouble admiring. I wanted to take a dream opportunity of being a live-in nanny for a friend of mine and her two wonderful daughters, and I just can’t. I’m lucky for the time I can spend with them. I am in no way, that level of reliable, yet—to be able to care for children. It breaks my heart. I don’t get to be the woman I want to be. I only get to be the woman I can be. I’m going to have to let what I want, go. I’m going to have to figure out how to be a woman I can be proud of, anyway. And like before, it’s going to take seeing my situation in a new way.

So, I’ve got to reshuffle. I’ve got to change things up to make things work. I can’t judge my life now based on how I used to be able to live it. That’s just not fair. But, in a way, I don’t know that is fair. In a way, the only one who can determine whether I’m actually living up to my potential is me. And I’m not always good at being honest with myself.

That leaves me with only one answer, forgiveness.

I’m going to have to allow myself a lot of mistakes. I’m going to have to eat crow, and worms, and bite some bullets. I’m just going to have to be okay with the fact that I suck sometimes. Sometimes you’re an all-powerful wizard. Sometimes you’re just a guy in a funny hat. But I’ve done this before, when I didn’t even intend to. I’ve been able to turn my situation around and find the good in it, even with everything it threw at me. I stopped worrying about me, and started worrying about other people. Now that I’ve changed my focus, I’m not alone. Now, the fight isn’t just about me. Now, I have the courage to stand up and lead the charge again.

Deal the cards. Let’s play.