I’ve been asking myself this question a lot lately. See also: what is a climber who can’t climb? A teacher who gets migraines from overhead lighting? A writer who can’t string three words together some days?
A few years ago, I was helping a friend put together her online dating profile (one of the chief joys of life). But she was getting stuck on the questionnaire. “How active are you on a scale of 1 to 5?” The online form would query, and I would think You’re a 5, obviously. But my friend would pause. “Come on, you hike, you swim, you’re always outside doing something.” And she would reluctantly select the 5. But as the questionnaire went on (and it did go on), she became visibly anxious and we finally ground to a halt. “But I don’t hike anymore.”
My friend was one, or possibly two, years into recovering from a concussion that had upended her life. “I don’t know whether to answer as my former self or my current self,” she explained, and I didn’t really understand what she meant. You’ll get better though, I thought.
Except she didn’t know that. And she didn’t know what better would look like, whether her old self would reemerge or a new self would form out of her struggle, or whether how she was at that moment was how she would stay.
When you used to hike, but you can’t right now, but you hope you will again one day, but you’re not sure you will be able to, how do you rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 5?
I get it now. The person I am used to being and the one I currently am don’t match. I don’t know where this will go. I don’t know how to be in the world, or how to make decisions.
My wise aunt told me this: we are who we are in the present moment, not in the future or the past. Who you are now is not who you will be, but it’s what you have to work with. You can’t make decisions out of fear that you might change, because you will; you have to embrace the fear and believe that when the tides shift, you’ll find your head above water.
She takes the long view on being.
But this is how things are right now, now that I have seen a specialist who has said I might actually have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (and a naturopath who is sure I don’t, and I am not even sure what the diagnosis means – this is not a straightforward path to walk): there are a lot of things I can’t do. Things I love. Things that make me who I am. Things I have a built a life around. And I find myself renegotiating everything, the way one does when moving houses.
I tried the clean sweep, thinking I could just throw out all my nick knacks and start again, but I am finding unexpected and long-forgotten treasures in every dusty corner. Who knows when this or that might come in handy? Who knows when I’ll be better again, if I ever will be.
So I’m letting go in smaller ways. Finding the narrow, winding path between the problem and the solution that is worse.
I can’t hike right now, but I’m still a hiker. So I have to figure out a new way of hiking – one that is within the realm of my current limitations.
That is the long answer – one that doesn’t fit in an online dating questionnaire’s answer box.
There is no short answer these days.