Weakness: the shadow perimeter
I have Addison’s disease. I’ve had Addison’s for nearly three years, and I am not yet used to the weakness. I have had a few epiphanies lately concerning weakness, and have been given to realize how unacceptable to me my own weakness is. Confronting my hatred for, and resentment of, my own failed strength, is enabling me to confront other things as well: unmourned, unrepented sin; and resentment at needing help. I have called unacceptable what God has decreed, instead of basking in the hidden wisdom which he ordained before the world unto my glory. In my ingratitude, I have not always aspired to feed upon the hidden manna, nor trusted in his merciful purpose.
An upending realization dawned on me that I front what I think are acceptable explanations, rather than ones I presume less acceptable, when someone asks after me. Pain and compromised mobility are somehow more acceptable than weakness — and certainly they are always with me — and so I tend to proffer those as social deflectors. It had not occurred to me before that this was a sort of prevarication, because I truly have pain, reduced mobility, and significant fatigue that might cause anyone else to bow out. But I have nearly always pushed through those things. Or at least, I nearly always used to, before I developed Addison’s disease, or chronic adrenal failure. I used to racewalk competitively; I rode my bike 100 miles a day on many occasions, and did a lot of things that meant I needed to exceed myself, while playing energy-tag with fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and endometriosis. But that was before Addison’s. Addison’s has drained the strength that used to enable me to push beyond my felt limits. Oh yes, and I have a fairly unsanctified resentment of limits, too.
It hinders promotion of truth between myself and others not to admit that sometimes the reason I can’t show up is because I’m too weak. And I do not wish to admit it because I find it humiliating, and I am afraid it would even be despicable — another ninth commandment problem, imputing to someone the notion that she would actually despise me because I didn’t happen to have enough cortisol available to store sufficient glycogen for the occasion. I don’t actually understand how this works. It’s somewhat consoling that my endocrinologist doesn’t either, but not very consoling, because it makes me think he’s an idiot. Another ninth commandment problem.
Pain doesn’t require much explanation, but I find it difficult to describe weakness, largely because I don’t wish to talk about it at all. I don’t wish to attribute it to myself, I don’t want to have any association with it, and I actually hate it, so there. An athlete might bonk after pushing beyond his usual limits, but I can bonk sometimes walking to the dining room table in the morning. I feel like I should at least have blood or computer-logged miles to show for it. But there is nothing to show for it, nothing but an abstract diagnosis. My immune and endocrine systems have a subterranean agenda.
For the very most part, very sadly, doctors these days are not scientists, they are technicians. And they lie, though probably unwittingly. They say hydrocortisone pills introduce exactly the same molecule to your system as your missing cortisol. They say that the regimen will make you just like anyone else. They say this because they don’t know anything else. They say this because they can’t help you, and you remind them that they are helpless and ignorant, but arrogant enough to portray themselves as knowledgeable. I have no doubt that I would pass a molecule test for having sufficient cortisol after taking my hydrocortisone. But it does not work the same way, it does not rise to the occasion in the same way, and it does not do all of the same things as well at all, and They do not know this, and so They tell you it is not so. Other Addisonians I know share exactly the same experience. We’re not making it up. But see how easily I shift the blame when I don’t want to talk about weakness as something that defines the shadow perimeter of my life.
Why I hate weakness is another matter. And I don’t hate it at all in anyone but myself. I feel nothing but compassion for others who are weak, because I can understand what weakness is, what it is like to feel as though you have no strength. I dislike being accommodated, because I am prideful about independence, and I resent the loss of a lot of independence. But the reality is, I was never independent; no one is. Inter-relationships not only make the world go around; they also draw out assets of strength and compassion in others who are eager to share and display them because these assets would otherwise be without value. So I have to wonder who I think I am to try to stint others’ readily given gifts. Ugh and fie.
The sword of weakness (my DragonSpeaking voice-recognition software heard this, instead of “sort of weakness,” but I will leave it, because I would not have said it better) that frequently overcomes me depletes my mental as well as physical energy. I am unable to read, or to talk to anyone, because I’m too tired to listen to them, and because speaking is exhausting. I’m not this weak all the time by any means, and sometimes I have strength to do things that are amazing for me, like a significant portion of yardwork. But then I become irritated when that portion of strength is withdrawn for a season. Strong days raise expectations. And so I gainsay God’s providence again.
I call them BFDs: Bad Flare Days. I refer to generalized pain and reduced mobility, but I won’t usually discuss the weakness. But I have to come to terms with weakness, because in my weakness is the perfection of God’s strength, and I have no right to gainsay that. God’s grace is surely sufficient for me, but I cannot yet begin to affirm with Paul that I would most gladly prefer to glory in my infirmities. I truly believe that what is sown in dishonor is raised in glory; but I cannot claim full contentment with my terrestrial condition. A tenth commandment problem, to be sure.
Weakness is a physical problem, but dealing with weakness is a spiritual problem. We are not to have weak faith, but God strengthens our faith when we ask. I am stronger when I ask for help than when I do not. And I am learning that unconfessed weakness is far worse than open weakness requiring another’s strength.