Today, I’m recovering from the beach vacation I took with my family last week. My spoon deficit is deep, but treasured memories abound. We jumped waves, paddled in the pool, and built sand forts. At times, I think I had more fun in the sand than the girls. But as far as anyone was concerned, I was only sacrificing my dignity in the sand for my kids’ happiness.
At least once during our stays there, we have to collect seashells. One day last week, Rachael and I set off down the beach as high tide began receding. We were headed toward the point of the island
because we tend to find better shells there; they’re less picked over. I was on a search for beautiful and unique shells with which I could craft. Rachael, on the other hand, was doing her best to bring home every clamshell from Emerald Isle.
Occasionally, Rachael picked up a broken shell and asked, What about this one? Unless it was a unique shell or especially pretty, I would reply, No, it’s broken. The more we repeated the exchange, the more perturbed Rachael became. Finally, she asked with all the exasperation she could muster, WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE BROKEN ONES?!?! I didn’t really have a good explanation. After all, it’s pretty self-evident, right? The thing that’s wrong with the broken ones is that they are broken. They’re imperfect and, therefore, useless.
Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. Rachael’s question set my thoughts bustling about, as so many innocent questions from our children tend to do. Just what was so wrong with the broken ones? Rachael certainly still found value in them. Somewhere along the way, I must have learned that broken things are no longer good. This notion creeps into our thoughts about ourselves and others; anything other than perfection is not worth our time and attention. To be broken means that we don’t have a place and purpose, that we ought to be cast aside and set adrift.
This mindset is a poison that spreads through us, especially once we learn that we are chronically ill. Some of us let the brokenness take over so that, in our minds, that is all we are. What we forget about ourselves is that there is still tremendous beauty within us in spite of, or because of, our imperfections. When we choose to focus on what is still right with us, we are able to see what we can do. We are able to see how we fit in the vast landscape of our experiences. Just like those broken shells…
Sigh. You guys, the more I kept trying to write the last paragraph, the less I was able to come up with the right words and imagery. It felt forced; it was kind of like writing a book report with a mandatory topic that everyone knows is bullshit. The fact is, being a “broken shell” fucking sucks. Sometimes, all you feel is the brokenness, and you can’t see past all your cracks, holes, and uneven edges. For myself, I know I spend plenty of time focusing on why I can’t do something. I can’t exercise because it hurts. I can’t play with my kids because I’m exhausted and just want to be left alone. I can’t volunteer for the charity fun run bake sale carnival extravaganza because my energy and mental capacity are drained. The way others may sometimes treat us in light of our illnesses demands attention to the negative feelings we so often push down and ignore. When we’re excluded, cast aside, or put down, it’s so easy to retreat and allow thoughts of what’s broken to consume us.
I think that’s why it’s so important to acknowledge and accept what’s broken about ourselves, but refuse to let it be the only thing by which we are defined. I like to say that I live with fibromyalgia, rather than I suffer from it, because fibro isn’t all that I am.
I’m a mom.
I’m a wife.
I’m a geek.
I’m a gamer.
I’m a student of things culinary and confectionary.
I’m a writer.
I’m a creative.
I’m a loud mouth.
I’m an introvert.
I’m a political junkie.
I’m a person who goes overboard to make others happy.
Oh, yeah. And I have fibromyalgia.
When we focus on the good, whole parts of ourselves, it becomes easier, I think, to accept what is broken. When we see our value and beauty, it becomes easier to have an attitude of, “Well, fuck them,” and go on our merry way when we are cast aside. It becomes easier to ask, “What’s wrong with the broken ones?” and reply, Not a damn thing.