Learning to Conquer the Shame of Sickness

Just as my digestive symptoms from recently-diagnosed Crohn’s disease have abated, my body has found another way to manifest stress and anxiety: my skin is a red, itchy mess. I am peeved, to say the least.

Another, less familiar feeling has been creeping in with the irritation (double-entendre intended!), one that I struggled to articulate until today. I feel shame.

My body is not working right, which is quite a blow to someone convinced that “God doesn’t make mistakes”. This silly body, that I have tried so hard to integrate with my heart, mind, and soul, doesn’t work for reasons completely out of my control. Sure, it’s not completely falling apart, but it is failing just enough to remind me that it will one day fail completely. And it is proving that I can’t trust it the way I did during my years of blissfully ignorant health.

Or maybe it’s not that I can’t trust my body, but that I can’t trust the world. I never gave caution a second thought, buying non-organic bedsheets with abandon and getting all the vaccines I could. I trusted a vegetarian diet to supply me with proper nutrition, I trusted my parents’ well and then the City of Boston to provide healthy drinking water. In fact, I looked down on all those nervous Nellies who thought they could protect themselves. But maybe my carelessness makes me sicker, maybe I can’t trust the world after all. And the shame creeps back: this time not because my body fails but because I was wrong.

Is there a third way, between – no, above – not trusting my body and not trusting the world? Can I surrender to a trust that zooms past today’s discomfort and embarrassment and infuses my entire being with the conviction that all will be well? For this trust to take root, I have to shed my expectations of what wellness looks like. I have to abandon the pride that tells me skepticism and fear are better than hope.

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