{Graves’ Lessons} Surrender


This is the fourth lesson that I’ve learned from Graves’ disease. This post will make the most sense if you read last week’s post first.

Years ago a friend and I studied “contemplative prayer” together through a group run by a heart doctor and anesthesiologist at a Catholic church down in Baton Rouge. There we learned about the restorative power of meditation. Through the practice of seated and moving meditations we explored how we humans can free ourselves from anxiety by just sitting with the anxious thoughts that overrun run us. We learned that if we practice regarding those thoughts as transitory –if we can surrender them, then we can learn to let our fears and anxieties go.

In the years since that course, I stopped practicing daily. Like a lot of my friends, I was too “busy” to do much except contemplate schedules, meal plans, shopping, eldercare, and childcare. But there I was last winter in the wake of my Graves’ disease diagnosis, struggling to manage my emotional, physical, and psychological discomfort and telling myself “Note what you feel. Note it. And move on.”

In the English language, we have so many great words and catchy idiomatic expressions that touch upon the wisdom of staying present in the moment: the calm at the center of the storm, letting go, becoming centered. How often do we take the time to embrace the human impulse behind those words–the need to accept where we are, even if it feels painful?

In my experience, the arrival of a long-term illness forces one to explore that impulse or else go nuts from fighting back. Some people call this process “surrendering their troubles to God.” I pray and talk to the force that another friend of mine calls “the Big Gee” daily, but this steady thing I practice is work that I need to do internally or I else I’m tempted to place blame unfairly on Gee for the whole mess.

Prayer, meditation, a box of Oreos. We all struggle to find ways to right ourselves when ill. I’ve been working on the idea of holding steady for almost a full year. Meanwhile, I’m still on the meds to which I responded beautifully. With the help of my doctor, I’m about to drop them completely and see if I’m really in remission–or if I need to go with radioactive iodine (RAI) or surgery for long-term disease management. This likely will lead me into life-long hypothyroidism requiring daily medication until the day that I die (hopefully from old age). I may also pack on some pounds and become sensitive to cold.

Frankly, if I think too much about what might await me in 2014 and beyond, I feel the anxiety rise. I feel vulnerable again. Some days my monkey-mind brain pokes at my heart and asks: “Will it work forever, this surrender-and-hold-steady thing we’re doing? It’s kinda hard and seems like a paradox. Is there another way? Could we maybe do some more thinking and consult the Great Oracle Google one more time?”

“I don’t know for sure what will happen,” comes my heart’s gentle reply. “This approach seems sensible enough. Yes, surrendering to the process and holding steady all at once seems a little bit weird. It’s hard for you. I get that. But let’s stick it out a little longer.”

Surrender and hold steady.

Sure, why not. I’m still here and I still can.

Thank Big Gee.