Do You Lose When You Gain?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about learning to protect myself. About finally getting it. Finally acting in accordance with my alleged intelligence and bowing out of the celebrations for International Day for People with Disabilities because if I didn't, there was a significant risk that I would lose several months of my life to healing.

Julia* left at very interesting comment on that post:

"Huh. Am I the only one with mixed emotions here? This is growth, this is maturity. Heaven knows that avoiding disabling pain is a good thing. And I'm really happy for you.  But there are these petty thoughts in the background. Is there no regret for the missed opportunity? The wisdom comes at the cost of a certain fierceness. Is there no regret for the fiercenss?  
 But maybe the fierceness isn't gone, maybe it is just re-directed. Once again, you are making me think."

I want to apologize for making you think, Julia, but consider the favour returned because I've been gnawing at your question for days now.

Is there no regret for the missed opportunity? Absolutely there is. I’d spent a lot of effort - and a fair degree of money - preparing for this, as had The Boy. I've heard that it was a terrific day, with an excellent turnout and this was a really good opportunity for me to get some exposure as a photographer. But even when hearing all of this, the twisting, painful "I wish I'd gone" that normally would've happened, didn't. And it still surprises me.

The fierce. Is what gets you through the hard times, gets you through when you never thought you could, gets you out of bed and dressed and through the day. It gets you back up on your (metaphorical) feet after you've been knocked down for the 17th time in a week and when you live with a chronic illness or disability, it is only with the help of the fierce that you create a life. It helps all of us, with or without disability, because it is the part of you that snarls in the face of a barrier and gives you the strength to go through/over/around it. Without it, there is just giving up.

And then there's caution. Caution can keep you weighing the pros and cons well past the closing of the window of opportunity, it can keep you static, sitting on the couch inside instead of taking a risk. It can keep you from failure, sure, but also from the thrill of trying and failing or even trying and succeeding.

Back to fierce. There are times where it is the only thing that gets you out of bed and dressed and through the day. When things are so hard that only the fumes of willpower, a stubborn refusal to lie down keeps you standing (again, metaphorically). Because fierce exists on a continuum and on the far end of this is something akin to the ferocity of a cornered animal - and in a way you are: cornered by circumstance, by pain, by impossibility - and it hits that place within you where the fight or flight response lives and you use that to fuel the fight. But it comes with a cost, because the fight or flight response is only supposed to be used for emergencies, temporarily and when it becomes the place where you live, your state of normal, it burns. It doesn't just burn what is standing in your way, doesn't just carry you forth on a flying carpet of flame past and through and beyond because you cannot harness fire, not this kind of fire, anyway. There is no discipline to be found, no control and although you may push through, there are consequences.

There are times where untamed ferocity is the only way you can get where you need to go, but getting lost in a habit of ferocity as a standard response will burn you and therefore prevent you from going where you want to go. Fierce and caution both are tools. Tools to be tempered, honed and used with discipline and skill and when used this way, they will enrich your life and get you further than you were before. The trick, I seem to have learned, is to know how to balance them, when to use one or the other and how much of each. And this is wisdom that has been learned by the totality of the experience, not just by the gift of feeling better, but also by repeatedly being burned by ferocity.

Because you are right, Julia - the fierce has been redirected. It has guided a shift in priorities, a look at life long-term, beyond today and this week and the visualization of what I desire for the future. And whether that is finishing The Book, having dinner with a friend, meeting deadlines or, as Diana said in a comment on the same post, creating the kind of physical health that means more time and ability for shenanigans with one's beloved. The fierce is now being used to stop myself from making the kind of foolish choices that impair my ability to live my life instead of enhancing it. And for that, there are no regrets.

*Thanks to my %^&#! commenting system I don't have Julia or Diana’s URLs - if you read this, can you leave them in the comments, please? And yes, the new year will definitely see some changes in the comments.


Crafty Cripple said…
I think you said it all right there.  Only someoone who did not have long term health issues would have made such a statement.  You weighed the costs and benefits and the fierce helped you make the right decision and stick to it.  If you weren't strong in mind you would have left your good sense behind and let your plans carry you along to a place where you wiped out yourself in a sea of pain.  You have to be so strong to learn to say no, when all your heart is telling you to do is say yes.  I think it helps when it isn't just you that suffers, but those that you love.  When you are saving some part of you for others rather than just for yourself it feel less like sacrifice and more like an investment of energy.
Becky (knittingyoyo) said…
Very well put. Costs and benefits... well balance is the key. That is such a hard thing to do, balance our lives and not push on when we know we shouldn't. We know the real cost to us if we are not careful. I agree with Crafty Cripple. People who do not deal with chronic illness just don't get it.
Diana Troldahl said…
A littel weepy here, your post is exactly what my life has been groping for the past 8 years.
You said it SO well, what a gift your writing is to us  :-}

My url is

Diana the fierce but cautious Romping Otter LOL.
Diana Troldahl said…
Well said :-}
I spent much of my life leading with my heart, which was a good way to be, as long as the physicality allowed. Now that the paradigm has shifted and my energy needs to be more focused, my heart still has it's say, but my self-protection and hope for the future is the ruler.
Kitten said…
I dunno, I think there's a difference between the strength that grits teeth and says I'm going to do this one thing, and the fierce that tilts at windmills.  I don't live with chronic pain, but I've been through some unfair crap in my life, and I'd have to say that the first kind was what got me out of bed, and the second kind, the kind that screamed in my head, This isn't fair, it's not supposed to be like this, is the kind that tried to send me back to bed again.  The wisdom doesn't cost fierceness, IMO, the wisdom is the maturity that recognizes that the regrets are causing you to waste what you DO have in the desire for what you can't have anymore.  And that goes far far beyond chronic pain or disability.
Diane said…
There are so many words written on the subject of balance.  Each of us has to find that balance and it sure isn't easy.
Julia said…
No, I don't live with a serious chronic illness or severe pain. And I had second thoughts as soon as I clicked post. If you didn't regret the missed opportunities, if you didn't perceive a lessening of the fierce, or if you simply chose not to discuss them, who was I to raise the point?

But this whole question of balance, of fighting the windmills, of living to fight another day, of anger, resentment, or acceptance, that's integral to who we are.

Don't apologise for making me think. That's one of the reasons I read blogs. I don't have a URL--I don't blog. But anyone can write to me at
Jocelyn said…
There's a great bit in one of my favorite books where the main character is grappling with something very like this - he calls it playing "wall".  Fierceness is what makes one keep charging the wall, whatever it is, but once you get through a wall, what happens then?  Another wall, and another, and another.  Simply going through those walls because they're there, at whatever the cost, means that all there is is recovery and gearing up for the next one.  Finding this place between caution and fierceness, that is a place of freedom - where you aren't compelled to play wall because of that animal fierceness you talk about, where you decide when and where to make the stand.
k said…
I like the tags; fierce, learning, thinking.

Fierce has come close to killing me, so I'm learning to think.

Lion still get me up. Lion still have claws. I love the lion.
Allison said…
It really is an art, I am finding, to balance the fierce and the caution.  Not only the choice of one or the other between the two, but, as you said, "redirecting" the fierce.  Using it in conjunction with caution and vice versa to get the most out of what one does have and what one can do and the greater wants and needs to make it not so much a loss but a way to truly achieve the most gains possible.

Very well written post.  
Elizabeth Mcclung said…
In the previous post, I don't consider noticing a debilitating habit and finally standing up to the collective expectations of society and yourself, and the voices in your head and what you 'should' do and saying 'No, I happen to be more important than that - or at least my shoulder is' to be losing the fierce, I think it is a type of standing up, perhaps to yourself and maturing.  Sometimes we damage ourselves BECAUSE we want to do certain things, and spend more time with certain people and be there, and see things - with chronic illness' there is a zero/sum balance of sorts, and so we become completely wretched for the desire to stay up with others or not draw attention to ourselves by visably leaving at either when know we should OR later when our body tells us we should (which is always too late, it seems).  You faced yourself and said 'no' - hard. 

What you say about using knowingly the adrenaline and the endrochrine system like a junkie to get our fix and do what needs getting done, or wanting to do, is well told.  Marathoners learn that too, but they can leave the consequences with a greater speed. 

As for 'tilting at windmills' or 'crashing through walls' - well, the best plan would be to crash into an knock unconscious the guy building the walls (if you can catch up to him).  There will always be a small minority who simply never know when to say quit, and who live life that way; realists perhaps, but ones who simply never stop, never ever stop.   It took until his 50's for William Cowper to overcome his depression and suicide attempts before becoming one of England's great poets.  How many thousand walls did those decades take to smash through?    Invisable chronic conditions aren't always the same type of pain.

You knew it was possible and you choose no....this time.  If you are scared, and will never risk it again, then I suggest some potted plants (I don't believe you are and I know you will risk it again).  there is the need of one day of knowing it will hurt you, maybe for a long time, and doing it anyway, knowing exactly the cost it will take - well isn't that a  type of courage.

The most common phrase I have heard in my life: "No, you see, that's impossible" (you can add, 'in your wheelchair', 'in your condition', whatever).  No, it isn't, it just might be really, really hard, and kind stupid, but thats not the same as impossible.