In a Calvin & Hobbes comic, Calvin once said, “There’s no problem so awful, that you can’t add some guilt to it and make it even worse.” 2023 has been full of problems so far. This year hasn’t been nearly as problematic as last year when I had COVID or 2020-2021 when I was wrecked from drug induced lupus. This year is just consuming me with a guilt that I can’t seem to shake. I’ve been dealing with constant sinus infections and bronchitis this year that just won’t seem to go away. I’ve had chronic sinus infections and bronchitis since I served near burn pits in Afghanistan, but this year seems to be crueler than ever. To make matters worse, the fibromyalgia is becoming unbearable, and I have a lot of days when moving feels almost impossible. This is where the guilt comes in. B.C. Brandy (Brandy before Crohn’s disease though we can say-before Crohn’s, drug induced lupus, fibromyalgia, Long Covid, and burn pits but that just doesn’t fit into a fun acronym) was a time management beast. I could work long hours, fit in a big workout or sometimes two, and work on a side project in a single day without a problem. This year I planned to get back to running, write a weekly blog, record a weekly podcast, fundraise for Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, and be an all-around productive person. I’ve found that I haven’t been able to run the way I want due to the pain from fibromyalgia and inability to breathe from the sinus infections and bronchitis. I’ve also had a difficult time recording and writing because I’ve been getting what I need done completed then sort of crashing. I’m so tired. The fatigue feels insurmountable. I just can’t do it all. A reasonable person would understand this fact. I’m not reasonable. I feel guilty. I don’t know why but I feel like I must be B.C. Brandy to be worthy.
I often feel doomed to this guilt. It’s a part of our culture as Americans. I never thought of us as especially different until I lived in Europe. The first time I really thought about Americans and how our culture affects how we view ourselves is when I heard someone in Germany call a friend fat. In the U.S, this is a grave insult that would be met with tears, screaming, and a broken friendship that may never recover. In Germany, it was just viewed as a matter of fact and observation, not an insult. If someone sees you for the first time in a while and you’ve gained weight they may say, “Oh, you’ve gotten fat” and you reply, “yes, I’ve been eating a lot of rich food and drinking too much wine”. In the U.S., we may be big boned, curvy, or full figured but never fat, that implies we have fault and are not our best selves. But why is this? Accepting our reality is probably the healthiest thing we can do but we just don’t want to admit our own limitations and faults. Accepting our limitations would be admitting that we are faulty human beings, very un-American. The other cultural phenomenon in the U.S. that is certainly detrimental to our health is the obsession with being productive and working long hours. We celebrate anyone who wakes up at 4:00 am and works constantly, leaving themselves with very little sleep or personal time. I see it online, on the news, in videos, and have heard it on almost every Ted Talk ever done. “Wake up early! Work, work, work! You too can be wealthy if you just put in more hours!” Why are we not worthy as individuals if we’re not working 15+ hour days and getting minimal sleep? I need 8 or more hours of sleep just to get my body to move. Unfortunately, that’s the state of my health right now. The problem is, even when I get the 8-9 hours of sleep my body requires now, I wreck my body with feelings of guilt for not being the woman who is successful at work, runs a well-known podcast, and competes in marathons. I feel like a failure. This is the real barrier to a full and healthy life for me and for millions of other Americans. Are we not worthy if we’re not achieving more than humanly possible? I don’t feel worthy. I believe this is my guilt as an American. My husband has often pointed out that I’m very successful as a dog mom, a wife, a board member, and advocate. It just doesn’t seem to be enough for me to feel worthy. Yes, the dogs think I’m great, but I want to run a half marathon in 1:30. I want to be able to work long hours and be the most successful version of myself. The problem is this guilt is making my health so much worse. How’s that for a vicious circle? Is it so bad to just admit our limitations and live the best life we can within those limitations? Am I not worthy if I can’t run fast and work faster? I keep trying to make myself fit into my old body. It just doesn’t fit anymore. Maybe instead of setting unrealistic goals for 2023, I should have made a goal to feel less guilt, to accept my new reality, and to embrace my limitations. This week marks the unofficial start of summer. I’ll start a new tradition of summer resolutions. This summer, I’ll work to accept my limitations and find my worth as a human being outside of being the best possible American. I’ll sleep until 6:00 and skip social gatherings that I don’t feel up to. I’ll count stretching my fatigued muscles as a workout and hopefully, I’ll learn to see myself the way my dogs and my husband do. Flaws, limitations, and all. Most importantly, I’ll work to embrace my reality and learn to say, I’m a worthy person and great American, less work, fewer accomplishments, failures, and all.