I have been sick for a week.
The nature of living on tips being what it is, we are having a lower-income May after three high-income months. We couldn’t get my tonics and herbal remedies I usually use to control my fibromyalgia when we meant to, and last weekend they ran out. We managed to scrape together another week’s worth eventually, but that exhausted our funds again and they won’t come in the mail until Tuesday anyway.
The resulting flare crashed over me like an ocean wave in slow motion– a little Friday, a little more Saturday, in full swing by Sunday when I couldn’t get to Mass. I stayed in the house for most of the week.
Every fibromyalgia sufferer has a unique set of symptoms. Mine feel a bit like the flu: random joint pain that is thankfully very mild, limbs weak as if they’re falling asleep, fatigue, head fog, confusion. I feel like I’m running a fever but I’m not. I forget common words, stammer, and take a ridiculously long time to say what I mean– right now, for example, it’s taking me hours to write this short piece. I have bursts of restless energy here and there, but I’m afraid to leave the house because I’m afraid someone will hear me stammer and look at my clumsiness and decide I’m on drugs. And then the anxiety kicks in.
That’s the state I’ve been in for days.
Today I couldn’t take it anymore. I had been inside on the sofa too long. I needed to do something with my next little burst of energy, even if it meant looking like a fool in front of strangers.
I had grand ideas of riding the bus to Robinson and catching another bus from there to have some fun in Pittsburgh, but I didn’t have the energy or cash for anything like that.
There was a small errand that needed to be run here in town, though, so that’s what I did.
There was a jumbo-sized can of ravioli sitting by the front door. I’d promised myself I would give a meal a month to the Friendship Room’s Little Free Grocery, and I’d bought that for them a week ago, but I had never brought it downtown. I put the can in a shopping bag. I also put in four boxes of pudding mix we bought to use up extra milk– and then we’d ended up using the milk on cereal and never made the pudding. Maybe somebody else in town had milk, but lacked anything nice to mix into it.
I took a cool shower and drank half a bottle of Pedialyte, both of which help buy me extra time before I collapse. I put on a skirt and makeup as if I was going to a party. That can also psych me into having better energy for a short time, for reasons I don’t understand. Most people with chronic illness have a list of things like these that they do for a few hours of near-normal function. As someone has said before: people who struggle with chronic illness aren’t faking being sick. We’re actually experts at faking being well.
I rode downtown, exhausted, shaky, my feet randomly tingling. I was angry. I often get angry when I’m sick. I can’t stand feeling this way. I’d gladly trade in the exhaustion and fog for plain old excruciating pain, if I could– if it meant I could be more active. There is nothing in the world I like more than getting things done, nothing that frustrates me more than idleness. My ideal day would be be spent cleaning, writing, gardening and running errands from dawn until dusk. That’s what I’d like to do with my life. Instead, it had taken me until nearly two in the afternoon just to hop a bus for a single trip. I despised myself. I despised everyone who was healthier than I but didn’t seem to make the most of it. I despised the bus and the city of Steubenville.
When I got downtown, I found the Little Free Pantry was nearly empty.
There was nothing left but four cans of green beans and a pound of lentils.
At the end of the month, people struggle the most. Of course, it would be picked clean now.
If I could, I’d have hopped the next bus and gone to Aldi to buy food and toiletries to fill the whole thing up, but I had nothing to offer– no more grocery money, no more strength to run complicated errands, nothing to bring to the poor but a grimace, a can of Chef Boyardee, and four boxes of pudding mix.
I got angrier still as I put my offerings in the pantry. They didn’t even take up one shelf.
There was so much empty space left, and I couldn’t fill it up.
I’d exhausted the little bag of groceries, I’d exhausted my borrowed energy, and I had no power to fill the shelves. People all over downtown were struggling and at best I’d just fed one, if that one liked ravioli and had milk for pudding.
As I glared at the cupboard, a car pulled into the lot beside me.
A woman got out with two Aldi cloth grocery bags and a package of toilet paper.
“Hello,” she said pleasantly. “I brought a few things for the pantry. I know they have the most need at the end of the month.” She started unwrapping her toilet paper package, so that several people could take a roll each.
She put her offerings in the pantry. There was still space left to fill, but between the two of us we’d gotten it up to two-thirds of its capacity.
I felt a genuine smile cross my face. “You got here just in time!”
I stopped by the Adoration chapel at the church next door for a few minutes, before I caught the bus home.
When I came out from seeing Jesus– not Jesus as He is on the cross with me when I suffer, however badly; not Jesus disguised as the poor seeking food and company at the Friendship Room; but Jesus in His other disguise, the one that looks like stale flat bread– the Little Free Grocery was nearly bare again. The lentils were still there, but my gift and the one the other woman brought had been taken away by someone in need.
This time, I felt hopeful.
Jesus will fill what is empty and exhausted again, by means I do not know.
Sometimes He’ll use you, and sometimes He’ll use me, but somehow He fills what is empty and exhausted.
(image via Pixabay)