Chronic Illness/Pain and the Upside Down - Better Together

I have been in a rough season, as of late. Not emergent issues. Not a flash flood. But a constant, wearing drip, which at first, doesn’t seem…

I have been in a rough season, as of late. Not emergent issues. Not a flash flood. But a constant, wearing drip, which at first, doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.

I recently discovered that our washing machine drips water when it is not in use.  Such a tiny deal, so it seemed, that I barely gave that drip a second thought.  However, the next day, when I went to load the dirty towels into the washer, I was taken aback by how much water had accumulated in the washer tub overnight.  The lesson in this:  Drips, seemingly slow and definitely constant, accumulate. And so it is with chronic pain and illness.

Difficult seasons in my life seem to lead to thoughts that are deep and dark.  I have recently been pre-watching a series called Stranger Things for my 11 year old chronically ill daughter (that way I know where the “kissing” scenes are that need to be fast- forwarded).  It struck me tonight that there are so many parallels between chronic illness/pain and this show.

For those who don’t watch Stranger Things, let me give you the run down. It takes place in a small town in Indiana called Hawkins.  Several years back, some scientists accidentally blasted a hole into a parallel universe, making a portal to an alternate reality coined “The Upside Down.”  Unfortunately, this world has blood-thirsty creatures who crawl through the portal and prey on the weak and wounded in our world.  Sometimes they destroy them right here and sometimes, they drag them kicking and screaming into the Upside Down, where I think they are killed by weirdo vines that screach like cats.

When The Upside Down is finally discovered, it is found to be dark and dank, with air that is thick and acidic.  This acrid air burns the eyes and makes it difficult to see what lies ahead, which is not necessarily a bad thing, because they don’t really want to know the horrors that are in front of them.  They feel a glimmer of hope when they find a flower, only to find that it spits poison in their faces when they try to inspect it more closely.  The cherry on top of this sludge sundae are the vines that wrap stealthily around the feet and drag you to the ground in a split second.

All of this is a recipe for a really crappy day, but wait!  It gets worse!  The Upside Down is actually a parallel universe to life in Hawkins, with buildings, trees and houses being in the exact same places. It all looks the same except it is dark and foggy, the buildings look like they have been in a fire and the place is covered in man-eating vegetation.

But those who have been dragged into the Upside Down can see what is going on in Hawkins whenever they enter the Upside Down version of that same building. They can hear everything that is going on in Hawkins but they can only communicate through a sort of Morse code,  which is rudimentary at best.

Now here are the parallels my mind made when comparing chronic illness/chronic pain to life in the Upside Down:  Chronic illness and pain sneaks up on you and drags you into  another realm, one that is different but not different. It is dark in the Chronic World and it is hard to visualize what is right in front of you or in the future. Maybe the dark, haziness is a blessing, because if you could see what was up ahead, you would have trouble motivating yourself to put on foot in front of the other each day.  The attack on your body and mind are consuming.  Invisible conditions are like living in a war zone that you can never escape, because it is your body that is at war with itself and you are the Prisoner of War.

Just existing in the Chronic Illness Upside Down is truthfully about the only thing you can do. Every bit of strength that you have has to be saved for the basic, like breathing, getting nourishment and trying to take care of loved ones. Sleep in this realm is not restful or restorative. It is more like a collapse. “No more!” our bodies say. “Not one thing more.”

There are so many things taken for granted in the perfectly healthy Right-side Up world.  We residents of the Chronic illness Upside Down can see into the normal lives of others. We see them living life right next to ours.  We see them going about their days with ease.  We see things taken for granted like a good night’s sleep, not depending on medication for an ok quality of life and having petty things to fuss about. We watch them go where they want, when they want to. They can do what they want and they can eat what they want. Our homes can feel like a prison in the Upside Down and we can simply glance up and see those in the Right-side up citizens, planning vacations, getting manicures, going to parties and putting money into savings accounts. This causes the darkness of the Upside Down to seem even darker, and makes it even harder to breath.

Listen, I am a huge proponent of giving thanks in all circumstances and counting it all joy. But joy is not happiness. We have to fight hard for joy, but let’s be honest. No one wins every fight.

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