“In sickness and in health.” These familiar words are always slipped between so many promises one makes to another in marriage. They try to convey the depth of one’s commitment: I have made a choice to tie my life with yours, and I will stand by it through the ebbs and flows of life.
It is a vow made in love. One guarantees the other:
I will love you when you are unwell and need extra care. I will keep loving you if one day illness strikes and robs you of the ability to do the things you once could. Maybe even the very things that made me fall in love with you.
One promises love and takes the condition of wellness off the table.
A promise made from one to another. But can we make that same promise to ourselves? It is this question, and not the question of marriage, that has occupied my thoughts for the better half of this afternoon.
Allow me to elaborate:
I spent last week feeling pretty unwell. It was nothing serious: pulsing headaches, an uneasy stomach, an overall sense of dizziness anytime I tried to concentrate.
I resisted for a few days. I went to work, trying to sift through my inbox and check off tasks with the same focus I had just the week before. Back at home, I tried to force my body into the same shapes I can usually make on the yoga mat. But these attempts were futile. I simply could not function as well as I typically do. The pain got to a point where I had to rest for a few days at home.
And indeed, the sickness came to pass with extra sleep and plenty of soup.
Despite how commonplace my symptoms were, I somehow found myself unhinged. I woke up everyday feeling frustrated that I did not feel as good as I usually feel. I was angry with myself for not getting done as much as I usually do. I hated lacking the energy that I usually have.
The physical symptoms were uncomfortable. But the most painful part was that I could not love myself in sickness as much as I do in health. Looking back on last week, I realize I somehow resented myself for being unwell. For not being the same active, able-bodied, and generally healthy person that I usually am. I learned that so much of the love I have for myself is tied up in my wellness and productivity. I discovered that my heart needs to grow so much, so that I can love myself equally through times of sickness. It is going to take a lot of untangling, these knotted patterns of thought that my worth is inherently connected to my wellness and the things I am able to do.
In marriage, we choose to tie our life to someone else’s, and we do it (presumably) out of love. But what about the life we were born with, our very own, the one we are truly stuck with till death does us part? Can we dare to extend that same love and commitment to ourselves? In sickness and in health? Do you at least promise to try?