(The story starts here: When Over-Training Syndrome Turns Chronic)
“So much of the life I lived before getting sick feels like a dream now. Things I believed I would prioritize or base my life around in future are inaccessible: in some cases temporarily, but in some cases permanently. Getting well won’t reopen all the doors that getting sick closed, within athletics and beyond. Healing will also expand my life in ways I can’t yet predict.” (From last week’s post: So, Where am I at Now?)
The question of what will come next for me has many possible answers, but the question itself is one I’m not asking very often.
As recently as the first drafting of this blog post, a mere 6 weeks ago, my only goal was to keep healing. I was thinking very little beyond that. There was relief to be found in accepting where I was, ceasing comparison with where I hoped to be in the future. I believe this is what Buddhists call “Radical Acceptance,” but I came by it by way of exhaustion, not enlightenment.
To paraphrase Nicole Sachs, the nervous system perceives the gap between where we are and where we want to be as a threat. In accepting my body as it was, sick and all, I turned off the danger signal coming from never being where I wanted to be.
Acceptance has meant devoting myself 100% to my current healing therapies, which take an enormous portion of my finite time and energy. In biomagnetics, we are working to clear my body of the pathogens that have been waging war for so long. So I’ve basically been recovering from the flu (or, more accurately: Lyme Disease, Mono, Strep, Shingles, Mold Toxicity, Aluminum and Mercury Poisoning, and assorted others) daily for a solid 6 months. That’s hard work! All of my other therapies are aimed at healing the nervous system, and if there’s one thing that’s pointless to try to predict, it’s the whims of my nervous system. It’s been a relief to not have to look forward, but I can feel that starting to shift.
I’m once again toeing the line of asking the “What’s Next?” question. At some point in my healing, visualizing and working toward the life I want to live on the other side will become as important as acceptance has been. After 6 months dedicated entirely to getting well, and with some definitive improvements to be seen, I believe I’m approaching that point.
This 2-pronged approach (Acceptance and Visualization) is a method I recommend to anyone immersed in a project too big to fit in the frame. Accepting where you are isn’t the same thing as accepting that you’ll always be there. Acceptance is a pressure release valve. When it no longer feels like we are offloading enormous pressure, it may be exciting to start envisioning a future.
Years of willfully living in states of uncertainty has taught me the importance of visualizing priorities, not just specifics, when I think about my future. That is particularly important now. Specifics are hard to imagine, because I can’t predict exactly what “health” will look like on the other side of all this. I assume the “after” state will have some things in common with the “before” state, but I think the way my body functions and the way I relate to my body will be transformed on the other side of this.
On the one hand, as I said last week, “Fear of never getting fully well is a natural part of healing from chronic illness.” But what I think is actually going to happen, and my goal, is that I will surpass the state of “health” I was in prior to 2018, gaining access to ways of thriving that had not been accessible to me before. Exhilarating as this image is, I still don’t know exactly how that might function, or what I will choose to do with it.
But even my priorities can be hard to sort out, as I address whether the life I built for myself is still serving my needs. That question first presented itself in 2019, when I left Oregon and came east. My nomadic and somewhat unconventional lifestyle puts me in the driver’s seat 100% of the time, and by 2019, I was feeling pretty tired from the constant on-my-toes decision-making. I wanted to stay in one place for a bit, maybe prioritize the people in my life more, and in general be open to trying new things.
Unfortunately, circumstance didn’t allow for this reset, but rather isolated me even more from the flow of life around me. My friends have varying awareness of how serious my health crisis has been, and can do little to help from afar, anyway. I’ve completely dropped off the map as a ski racer, losing contact with several former coaches and training buddies. Even my partner left me, feeling as though life with me offered no options, no hope: the ultimate irony for one as free-spirited as myself.
This slow disappearing act is the reality for many with chronic, invisible illness, perhaps explaining the ME/CFS hashtag #millionsmissing. I have dedicated several pages to understanding the emotional implications of chronic illness, which can be found here.
For many months, it’s taken everything I have to show up for my athletes and my business: the one thing I haven’t lost as a result of this illness. Being immersed in my athletes’ processes has been the highlight of my life for a long time. I’m grateful every day to be able to engage with my work and the incredible athletes coaching has introduced me to. But there are things my work doesn’t offer.
One of the catch-22’s of the dream of digital nomad life is that I don’t have to be anywhere. I built this lifestyle so I could take any opportunity: to train or race wherever I wanted; to be with friends, family, or a partner; to travel just for fun, all while working a job that I’m truly enthralled by. Ultimate flexibility has been my priority for years, probably for most of my life. As I begin to heal, does that freedom offer a structure upon which to build my future?
In many ways, it’s not unlike the crisis of purpose I dubbed my “Quarter Life Crisis,” shortly after graduating from college. In some ways, this phase is harder, because everything is harder when health uncertainty is involved.
In some ways, it’s actually easier! I have some practice at addressing these massively difficult Big Life Questions, I already have a job I love, and I recall once having a lifestyle that lit a fire in my soul. With little else to guide me right now, it seems only sensible to revisit some of the things I used to love, when my body can.
Movement, travel, and community are already the fist things I have been adding back in when I have the energy. I have been able to do more in-person support for my local athletes recently, something I look forward to expanding. In the past couple months, I have had the energy to see friends who live nearby. I even plan to spend an overnight in the White Mountains soon, to catch the peak of fall foliage. These local adventures are paving the way for some bigger ideas on the horizon:
1) If I am well enough, I hope to take a road trip to the southwest with a friend this winter. I would LOVE to spend some time out of my apartment, but I do not want to go alone, mainly for my emotional well-being, but also for my physical safety in case I have a health-related problem.
2) Flagstaff, AZ keeps knocking on my imagination’s door, and I do not know why. I like Flag as a town, but I’m not sure what, precisely, would call me there. Perhaps this will become clearer as I get healthier.
3) In the long term, I do intend to learn biomagnetic pair therapy and begin to practice this form of healing for others, but this could be a long process, in part because it will cost many tens of thousands of dollars.
4) In a less-costly vein, I have a (long-standing) whim to finally beat my 5k running PB, which I set in 2007 at the age of 14, before specializing in skiing. I assume training for this will take center stage, once my body is ready. (Maybe that’s what I will be doing in Flagstaff?)
As always, I would love to hear YOUR suggestions! If you have a rad group of friends in a location with good access to the out-of-doors, and you might like to welcome a yet-unformed version of Carly into your crew, hit me up!
And of course, if anything in my health story resonates with you and I can help you in any way, let me know. I have tried my best to provide a comprehensive overview about my illness and my healing, including a very real and raw look at the emotional implications of chronic illness. I hope I can provide insight for anyone else looking to heal, or looking to thrive. If there is something more I can do for you, please let me know, I would love to chat.