Does This Illness Make Me Look Broken?

Dear Fixer:

Does this illness make me look broken?

I only ask because I see you’d like to fix me.

I know, I know. You care. And fixing me makes you feel useful and keeps you from fixating on your own brokenness.

The thing is, when I see you rush toward me with that multi-tiered toolbox, I have an overwhelming urge to fix your need to fix.

Crazy, I know because some things can’t be fixed.

Believe me when I say, I’ve tried to fix me too. I like the idea of being happy, healthy, and whole. I’ve spent a lot of energy, time, and money on organic produce and supplements, M.D.s and naturopaths, prayer and meditation, affirmation and visualization, hiking and dancing my way back to health. Not to say none of that has helped, but there’s a difference between supporting a body toward optimal conditions under less than optimal circumstances, and being cured.

I remember that eye-opening moment when I grasped that real fixes are rarely quick, if they exist at all, and that this may be as good as it gets.

So I fished around deep in the bottom of my toolbox and found the only spare part that could fix the only thing I had left. With a tweak and a yank, I loosened my grip on the search for the grand fix, which freed me up on a quest to accept.

This, too, is not easy, but to be honest, it’s a lot less exhausting.  Once I got past the tears and sadness, I felt relieved I didn’t have to work so hard or run so fast. I still supplement and meditate and dance my way toward wellbeing, but I stopped trying to swim to Hawaii or seek an obscure road that spans the Pacific. As far as I know, no one drives to the islands.From_there_to_here

The funny thing is when I stopped looking for a non-existent freeway, I discovered the view right in front of my nose. No, it’s not Hawaii, but it’s not all debris and devastation either.

My road may not be lined with coconut trees, but it’s mine. It’s another experience and to experience means I’m alive. Experience may be the definition of life itself because as long as we’re alive, experience is what we do. We wake each day, a day that’s never been lived before, to live and breathe and feel in that moment in time, even if that day’s agenda includes pain. Because sometimes it does.

I can be angry and I can accept. I don’t say “or” because I do both at different times.

Sometimes I’m positive when that helps me survive.

Other times I’m negative for that too helps me survive, especially when positivity feels like a setup for disappointment.

Negativity is a useful tool that helps me accept what is. It grounds me in reality where it can act as a step stool toward acceptance. It provides a cushion from the crush of defeat because it’s not too far a fall from lowered expectations.

I feel better when I don’t fight and struggle with the wind. Arms that flap against the current create waves and heat and friction, using up valuable energy. Either way, I’ve learned what works for me.

When I was in labor with my first child, the nurse advised that I’d probably feel better if I didn’t breathe this way, but rather that way. I had tried all of the various Lamaze techniques and knew which one gave me relief in that moment. I told the nurse, “I think I know better than you what feels good on me.” Most of life is like that. Living inside your own body gives you a distinct advantage over those who peer from the outside looking in.

So, dear Fixer, if you’d like to join me where I am, you may ride in the passenger’s seat beside me, but please resist the urge to give directions. Believe me when I say I care at least as much as you in my own successful navigation.

I consider your company in itself to be a gift. I, in turn, will tell stories and make you laugh. I still enjoy life, just in a different way.  If that’s too much of a strain, if I bore you to tears, or you feel your agenda is somehow squelched, I understand. You must understand I’ve turned a corner and now I must go. I won’t drain myself by yelling back and forth between my side of the street and yours.  See, one of the perks of me being here and not there is that I eliminated that sort of drama from my life purely because I don’t have room for it. It’s simpler here, and I like it that way.

Don’t worry about me. Whether I’m here or there, I always end up where I should be. If I take a wrong turn, it’s my experience to figure that out. It may even be the point.


  1. One of your very best, Eileen! Swimming to Hawaii is bound to leave one feeling stultified-better to just put 1 foot in front of the other-keep breathing and trying to bloom where we are, right?

  2. You’re the best!

  3. Brilliant

  4. nancyspoint says:

    Hi Eileen,
    Another wonderfully well-articulated post. We humans are complex beings, so yes, we can “do” any number of emotions all at the same time. And I love your childbirth story. I have a similar one. When I was in labor with baby #3 and wearing one of those contraction-monitoring devices, an attending nurse said to me, “Nancy, you can relax now. You’re not having a contraction right now.” As you might guess, my response was, “The hell I”m not!” I never forgot that outrageous attempt to “fix” my pain. Great read. Thank you.

  5. Jacquelyn says:

    This applies to so many illnesses. I live my life with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. There are so many who think they know what I should do. I am in the “peaceful” place where I know how to get the most out of my life. I so agree with this post!

    • Jacquelyn, thanks so much for you comment. I too have CFS, which is my biggest malady these days and the inspiration for this particular post. Yes, so many diseases and illnesses have universal experiences that many relate to. I love hearing that you too have found that peaceful place. Your comment made me smile. Best wishes to you!

  6. Eileen…you always write great articles. They’re brilliant and profound.

  7. Wonderful post, very insightful. I do my best to live the best quality life I can, but in many ways I don’t want to be fixed either. I’ve had doctors try to “fix” me, but I told them I don’t want to be tampered with. Love your labor story. It’s amazing how often people tell us how we feel or should feel.

  8. Hi Eileen, this is another excellent article. I love these lines, “Negativity is a useful tool that helps me accept what is. It grounds me in reality where it can act as a step stool toward acceptance. It provides a cushion from the crush of defeat because it’s not too far a fall from lowered expectations.” I can so much relate. And I also love your childbirth story.

    I’ve encountered a few “fixers” in my life. In fact, I am dealing with one right now. We have a friendship and it’s hard to ignore her need to want to dictate how I should feel/act. I’ve had a few chats with her about my discomfort but we’re getting to the point where we can no longer be ourselves with each other, because 1) she tries to “fix” me and 2) I don’t want to be “fixed” so I keep things to myself to avoid confrontation. The sad part is that, at some point soon, we may not have the same type of relationship we once had. I feel it’s slowly shifting — perspectives change. I might need to set some boundaries.

    Thank you for another insightful post. xx

    • Rebecca, while the majority of my friends have been what I’ve needed during my shit storm, I’ve also noted the shift in certain relationships. An extraordinary experience changes our perspectives and perhaps the way we approach life. Some people expect us to be exactly as we were before cancer. That’s impossible. I’ve also found myself filtering what I say to accommodate these people, but then it doesn’t feel like much of a relationship if you can’t be real with your friends. Sometimes distance is the only alternative.

      Thanks for your comments. They’re always so thoughtful and I know we’re on the same page. xo

  9. The Accidental Amazon says:

    Beautifully said, Eileen. <3

  10. Eileen,
    This is beautifully written and so well said. Thank you for sharing your words <3

  11. Eileen you write so well. I love the rich description of the toolbox as a fixer when some things can’t be fixed to their original form. I have had to try to slow down, and I’ve missed reading your blog.The side effects still linger after 2x diagnosis, ACT chemo, radiation and 8 breast surgeries, while being spared of it still being contained. My bones are brittle and this year brought me intense painful nerve damage due to radiation and a lat flap surgery. You nailed my thoughts when you wrote, “We wake each day, a day that’s never been lived before, to live and breathe and feel in that moment in time, even if that day’s agenda includes pain. Because sometimes it does.” I could not have said this better! I hope you find solutions that work best for your mind, body and spirit. xoxo

    • Susan, I too have had to slow down and pull back to support my own health. That has meant I don’t read as many blogs as I used to, nor do I write posts as consistently. You’ve been through a lot, Susan. I’m glad this post resonated with you. Thanks for stopping by this time and for your kind words. Sending you lots of hugs.

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