“Hey and you snatch your rattling last breaths
With deep-sea diver sounds
And the flowers bloom like
Madness in the spring”
– Jethro Tull, “Aqualung”
Winter can be a notoriously brutal time for many of us, wreaking havoc on health both mental and physical. I’ve been following the words of many fellow bloggers and online friends with no small degree of empathy as they fight lengthy battles with illness. I’ve listened to those coping with SAD, trying to hold to stability as the sun gradually returns to a higher place in the sky, the light lasting a bit longer with each day. I’ve read the words of folks like Aubs, who took a genuinely terrible injury after falling on the ice and yet found wisdom from it. I’ve shaken with anger alongside Aine as she described what she lives through on a daily basis as someone who is chronically ill, black, and poor. I read about these experiences with bodies that have been hurt or are constantly hurting, see discussions through various media platforms about the dangers of uncritical positive thinking regarding one’s health, and in turn find myself struggling with a vague, writhing sense of how can I make this better while simultaneously looking at my own body and recognizing things about it that would have been much simpler to let well enough alone.
You see, I really hate caving to limitations. Hate admitting that there are things that I physically cannot do. I’m as stubborn as anyone I’ve ever met when I take on a challenge, and if I say I’ll do something, it will damn well get done, come hell, high water, or hypertension.
I had the realization recently, after talking with Khenne about the trend amongst dual-Parented members of the House of Netjer to connect more with one god over the other, that this relates to why I lean so much more strongly towards Set in my spiritual practice. I take pride in the sheer grit that He represents for me and that I aim to reflect in my active, day-to-day worship of Him. Every single dawn He’s up and fighting the Uncreated One, taking the bites and the poison, largely because someone has to but no one else can. There is no sense of “backing down” in this aspect of Set’s nature, there is no “today I’m going to take a break because I need some time for self-care.” There is only moving forward, getting the job done, and putting that critical necessity, that responsibility, ahead of everything else.
Through this lens did I view my responsibility to family over the past month, cramming five cities worth of travel by bus, car, and train into ten days. All the while I played marital counselor to aging, angry parents, served as nurse to a relative who handled his illness as maturely as a five year old, and worked as organizer for an extended family who largely seem to have stopped caring about bothering to schedule time with those who travel for hours to be with them. I did this without complaint, keeping the grief I felt contained, and instead charging forward, getting through it, seeing my responsibilities through.
I was not surprised when I became ill half way through the trip, violently so by the time I returned to Pittsburgh, fighting my way through work on Friday through the necessity of keeping my job, and then effectively collapsing after taking the bus home.
But it was not Set whose presence I felt during the days that followed, my lungs rattling from the fluid in my bronchial tube, each breath an exercise in deliberate motion, shallow and controlled, trying to avoid the minutes-long coughing spells that would leave me dizzy and occasionally half-blind from lack of oxygen. It was not Set who watched me with concern and frustration as my right hand blistered over with hot, red welts triggered by a prescribed antibiotic that my body rejected, nor was it His voice that I heard as I reached out to my gods in a panic during my third day largely confined to bed, albuterol shakes and a fever ramping my anxiety to levels that left me irrationally convinced that I was actually going to die at age 26 without some way to fight the infection, some way to help me breathe.
It was Bast who watched me with cool green eyes, Her immense presence surrounding me and then forcibly drawing out the whole of my grief for a family that had hurt me, and a body that had caved, as it so irritatingly and frequently does under such stress and pressure, to bronchitis, anxiety, and allergic response.
I wept, I choked, I gasped, I wailed, and I hated every single minute of being so utterly out of control. I hated it all the more for occurring in my partner’s presence, when he’s had his own health battles to deal with of late. But then the experience was done, the rage and grief largely out of my head and heart, and I slept more fitfully than I had in days. My life predominantly continued to revolve around sleeping for several days following. I made it to work, I did the bare minimum for other obligations, but for almost everything else which I normally hold myself responsible, I just said, “No.”
I hear Bast in that “No.” See Her in the actions of my own black-furred cat who was dealing with a cold at the same time as I fought bronchitis. For all of Sammi’s sweet “nurse-cat” temperament when I am ill, rarely leaving my side when I’m under the weather, she instead took a few days to largely rest beneath my bed by herself, until she was ready to come back and be my loyal familiar once more. Bast is far more than cat goddess alone, yet the feline propensity for self-care, self-focus (a very different beast than self-centeredness, as I would be wise to learn) is something that I believe She would have me better understand. But it keeps me from so readily embracing Her as I do Set. I feel no pride in stepping back, in admitting that my body has been “defeated” or was too weak to continue. I despise the limitations that asthma, cancer scares, and ongoing battles with anxiety and depression place on my life, how they limit what I can physically offer to the world. I struggle to love and accept my body, because I am increasingly aware that there is no amount of will power that’s going to make all of my ailments magically go away. I cannot be Set’s stubborn, get-shit-done, tough-it-out daughter all the time, much as, in my ideal world, I would.
How do I accept my Mother’s lessons, and in turn accept myself? How do I become closer to the Eye who knows how to burn brightly without burning out?
I have no answers as of yet. Only frustrated acknowledgement that this… this needs to be dealt with.