So … I’ve been a little bit upset with the groundhog for seeing his shadow and predicting six more weeks of winter. I know that in our neck of the country we need the water. We’re approaching drought conditions. Yet my soul craves consistent sunshine and to not be freezing all the time. I walked around thinking, “Darn shadow! Stupid shadow!” I was relieved recently when I read an article one day saying that Punxatawney Phil is actually wrong ⅔ of the time. I quickly switched gears and am now so relieved he saw his shadow. I’ll take those odds.

But as I often do with my can’t-ever-stop-thinking brain, I kinda started to mull over the meaning and connotations of shadows and what they represent.  

A basic definition of shadow is that it’s a dark figure or place where the sun doesn’t shine because something impedes the rays of light from the sun. Typically it means something physical like an object or person or building or the like. Over the years, however, we have begun to use it as an analogy for gloominess and despair in our lives.

You’re kidding yourself if you don’t think you have a shadow or two (or dozen) in your life. We all have aspects of our lives where instead of sunshine and hope, we struggle. The hope is blocked by overwhelming difficulties with health, finances, changing family circumstances, death, loneliness, fitting in, finding your place or a million other monsters out there. Without that hope, darkness and gloom slowly start to set in and replace the happiness we once had. Sometimes it can be in just one or two (or a dozen) facets of your life, and sometimes it can overtake everything.

I’ve probably been closer to the “dozen” side of shadows over the last many years. We have already discussed several of our monsters, but as a recap for newbies:

  • Being a 24/7 caregiver during Becca’s nine years of debilitating, excruciatingly painful chronic illness.
  • Watching and helping her recover from nine surgeries including MALS surgery, three brain surgeries (one of which almost killed her and she has still not fully recovered from), an auto-kidney transplant 6 months ago and then her thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) surgery two days before Christmas that she is also still recovering from.
  • The stress of finances as medical bills and needs have eclipsed quite a bit more than we paid for our house. Of getting a $365k bill from a doctor for just HIS cost of one of the surgeries, then having to fight and fight and fight insurance to cover it. Which they FINALLY mostly did.
  • How about just the stress of fighting the insurance company to pay for TONS of things? Or having them tell you they would cover something, but they didn’t. Of having to be on payment plans for several of your medical bills because you simply have no choice.
  • Then there’s the loneliness as most of both my and Becca’s friends disappeared because they found her illness too depressing and didn’t want to hear about it. What? Chronic illness isn’t fun? Guess what? Not fun for us either!
  • Or there’s the scores and scores of people we had to contend with because they thought she was faking it or she wasn’t getting proper medical attention. That she needed to get second and third opinions. We have traveled coast to coast and seriously been going to the best in the country in their fields.
  • And there’s my busted leg. After almost a decade of having to stay at home, I can finally leave and go for walks and get some exercise — yet I can’t take a step without a lot of pain. 11 months in (six working with the best physical therapist in the state) and I’m barely seeing any progress.  

I could go on and on and on. There are many, many more dating all the way back to my childhood. So many things have cast shadows in my life. But I don’t want to dwell on the ordeals themselves; rather, that in my experience — the most sad thing about shadows is that we can become very comfortable in them.

That’s right. They become a second skin that envelops your mind and your heart until the sun barely makes a dent. You stop feeling pleasure in so many of the things you used to love and stop actively seeking out the joy those things once brought to your life. The shadow is what becomes your friend and your solace. It is so pervasive and encompassing that its existence becomes your normal. It is a cozy blanket you wrap yourself in to help block out the pain and anguish that never subside.

It was painful merely to write that.

However, as I have mused over the monsters in my life that have cast large and unrelenting shadows, I know I have to be far more proactive in finding the sun. Hope has been so fleeting until recently, that I’ve set another goal. It’s time for me to walk out of the shadows. It is time to start finding that hope and joy that has been missing for so many years. It is time to start circling back to finding joy in the things I CAN do and the differences I CAN make in others’ lives despite my physical limitations. It is time to leave the security of these shadows and find more places and events and people who will help me ease my way back into the light. And yes, that includes starting therapy!!!!

If you are one who understands the words that I am writing, I encourage you to join me in this effort. Let’s switch gears! The shadows may feel comfortable, but we are missing out on so much. We deserve so much better.

If anyone has any suggestions that any of us could incorporate, we would love you to share them. Especially simple ones that will help us get started without feeling more overwhelmed. I’ll take all the advice I can get. Please share!

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