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Your Illness is Your No-Guts Filter

Posted Mar 26 2013 5:00pm

GUTS I have a friend who suffers from chronic cluster headaches.If you’re unfamiliar with cluster headaches (and hopefully you are), they are like migraines on steroids. Debilitating, stop-you-in-your-tracks, please-stick-a-need-in-my-eye intolerable pain.

A few days ago, I was with him when he had one.

Today we were talking and he said he wished I hadn’t seen that because it’s ugly and dark and scary and he thinks anyone who witnesses it would, and probably should, turn and run the other way, fast.

I told him he’s been blessed with a very effective no-guts filter for use with the people in his life, and for that he should be thankful. In other words, if someone doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to witness his, mine, your very human struggle with pain, discomfort, frustration, and fear, then good riddens. Don’t let the door hit your *ahem* on the way out, as they say.

To some extent, we all live in fear of someone we care about discovering our “ugly” side and rejecting us. It’s perhaps the most pervasive fear of being human. If they find out the truth about me, we think, then any chance at my being loved will be destroyed. Sure, they may like me when I am smiling and showered and my hair is done, but what if they saw me when my MS was at its worst? When my cluster headaches were raging?

These thoughts are often too horrifying to take. Especially if you’re single and nobody’s promised you for better or worse yet. But of course, as many of us may already know, even that promise isn’t always kept. So anything that makes us less attractive by the ruthless and massively unrealistic Hollywood standards is to be banished, hidden, shamed out of existence.

It was tough to watch my friend in pain because I felt powerless, and I don’t like feeling powerless. But in a way, it was also very fulfilling to be there, because it allowed me an opportunity to be a better human. I saw his ugly side, but to me it was beautiful,  not because suffering is beautiful, but because sharing true intimacy with someone is beautiful.

And what could be more intimate than allowing someone to see you at your lowest and most vulnerable? Experiencing that with him was a gift to me, strange as that may sound. The gift was the feeling of my own heart expanding by simply being a compassionate witness who did not run.

Illness is dark and scary. It’s not sexy. But I think we have it backwards when we worry that someone won’t accept us because we may not be well. It’s not that we are afraid we are ugly, it’s that we’re afraid they are. We are afraid their heart just may not be big enough to love all of us.

And beyond that, it’s not the fear of them running away from our ugliness that terrifies us, it’s the possibility that if the roles were reversed, we might do the same.

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