I am my own light, even in the darkness

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I wrote the following at the close of 2022: “After several mild winters in a row, this winter is apparently intent on testing our mettle. Snow came early and has fallen often, accompanied by dangerously cold and high winds. Before the winter solstice even arrived, it felt like we were already several months into winter, because, well, we kind of were.

Then, the day after Christmas we were visited by weather of historically horrifying proportions–tornadic winds, blowing, drifting snow, and temperatures in the negative 50s with windchill. The whole state of South Dakota was shut down not once but twice, as was every single road in our county. The storm went on and on and on making solid, tree-high drifts all around our house.

This storm also happened to arrive while COVID was making the rounds through our household. Fortunately, my husband and the kids bounced back quickly, but I have not been so lucky. Even though my oxygen levels were good, the combination of an illness that can make it feel hard to breathe, and the reality of being trapped for days far from medical care, resulted in some of the scariest hours of my life so far…In other words, the darkest days of the year felt dark indeed. I went into the holidays thrilled with myself for completely clearing the second half of December to dive fully into the holidays, to do all the crafting and baking our hearts desired, to roast marshmallows around our firepit and bundle up for evenings of star gazing, to enjoy slow evenings with our extended family. Instead, I only made it off the couch to lay on the bathroom floor–the place I kept going to panic in privacy, or to call friends on the phone for moral support–hoping I could somehow keep the days halfway jolly for the kids and also not completely lose my marbles.”

Little did I know (and perhaps thankfully so) what lay ahead. Long COVID, a panic disorder diagnosis, and then, just when I thought I was finally getting better, a tick bite that led to treatment-resistant Lyme disease, meant there were few days in 2023 that I didn’t feel unwell. I kept thinking I’d turned a corner only to have some new virus attack my weakened immune system. I got tired of sugarcoating it when friends called to check on me. “No, I’m not any better,” I’d tell them with despair.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of that first illness, and it is once again the darkest time of the year. All across the Northern Hemisphere people are celebrating festivals of light, Christmas, Yule, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa being the best known in this country. As writer and teacher Asia Suler describes, “The reason why we celebrate the myriad of holidays that mark this time…is because our ancestors were, in truth, wild optimists. Not only did they trust that the light would return, that the soil would warm, that life would continue again, they truly believed that their rituals were an important part of keeping the earth’s magic alive.”

I spent the whole year hoping and praying to be cured. I also worked really hard, visiting doctors, scouring the internet for information about how to get better, changing my diet, changing it back, taking more medication and herbal supplements in any given week than I had the rest of my life combined, but the feeling of being shroud in darkness did not abate.

Now, in the days just before the light begins to return in tiny, momentous increments, darkness looks very different than it did before I got sick. I am all the paradoxes: both stronger and weaker, less optimistic but full of hope, not cured but healing, and almost everything is different though not much has changed. At the end of this brutal, brutal year, I am thankful. I’ve learned a lot about being instead of doing and that I am not defined by my accomplishments. Most importantly, I know now that I am my own light, even in the darkness.

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