At age fourteen, I started having troubles functioning during the winter months. Each year, the fatigue and depression grew worse. During the summers, I worked as a cook at camps, where I learned to rejoice in the beauty of the mountains and in the ability to work. I would fit as much joy into my summers as possible, because I knew I would need it to get me through the winters. Eventually, I realized that there was also beauty in winter. I came across a poster, with flowers growing out of the snow, that said, “In the midst of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”
After six years of feeling great during the summers and lousy during the winters, I was finally diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder. I learned to do my own research, and to teach each new doctor. In my journal, I wrote, “I am a flower, growing in the midst of a muddy field, yet lifting my rain-soaked face toward the returning sun. The rainbow which stretches hope across the sky is mirrored a thousand times in each droplet of lingering, life-giving rain on my face.”
In the mid 1990’s, I moved to Arizona with the hope of improving my health enough to have a better life. While the SAD improved, I found myself developing new health problems. When my husband and I moved again within a year, my health caved in. What surprised me the most, was that I could be sitting slumped over in a wheelchair in the emergency room, barely able to speak or move, and doctor after doctor told me that I wasn’t ill, or that it was “just anxiety”. After going to twenty-four different doctors in the next year, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. Whenever I felt like giving up, I would draw on my previous experience with a difficult-to-diagnose illness, and I would get up and try again. I kept track of my symptoms daily for a while, then used my old records to do a side-by-side comparison between old symptoms and new. That’s when the first doctor took me seriously.
When I first developed CFS, I was so hurt. I had dreamed for so many years of having a normal life. Instead, I’ve learned to see in new ways. I’ve learned to balance my life, to give to others, to reshape my dreams, and to become more aware of others’ struggles. I’ve learned that flowers can grow not only in the snow, but also in the desert sun.
crocus in snow, Image ID: 48273677. Copyright Alesikka | Dreamstime.com
devils’ finger cactus image by Allan Hope