Dismounting The Unicycle

My brother in law is one of the most talented people I know. He can shear sheep and alpacas (llamas, too), and always has the best ideas for fun activities (like that one time he made a drive in movie theatre in his garage). By far the greatest thing he can do, though, is ride a unicycle…and juggle at the same time.

I was very sick the first time I saw him do this. He and my sister sent me a music video to make me smile. They succeeded, mostly because my sister is hilarious whenever she’s attempting to look thug, and also because my brother-in-law decided to wear red long-johns. If a man juggling on a unicycle in his pjs isn’t a recipe for humor, I don’t know what is.

I’ve always felt like the whole unicycle thing is very impressive. It is one of the most casually cool things you could ever say at a party. “Yeah, I work in finance…and I also rode a unicycle here.” Nobody is ever going to look down on you for riding a unicycle. If anything, they’re thinking how incredibly cool you are, and wishing they were the same way. “Man, that guy in finance really has it all together. I mean, he rides a unicycle.”

During Labor Day, a couple of years ago, I had no plans and no invitations to anybody else’s plans. I found a nearby lake and began driving, soaking in the rare Wisconsin heat. It was a good day, but also a hard one. I was feeling tired and lonely, and going somewhere by myself wasn’t really helping. In Lyme Warrior speak, “I was low on spoons that day.” On the drive over, I slowed down coming down a hill and beheld one of the rarest sights: a unicycle rider. He rode confidently down the side of the highway, seemingly without a care to bring him down. This feat of his was made more impressive by the sheer danger of it all. If he fell, he’d be hit by a car on one side, or drop into a steep ditch on the other. I stared at him as I drove past, in awe of his superhuman accomplishment.

We chronic illness folk call ourselves Spoonies because we never really know how much energy and ability we are going to wake up with in the morning. We can put in a lot of effort, eat well, get to sleep on time, and take all of our meds, but that doesn’t guarantee that we won’t wake up feeling weak and strangely hungover the next day. Lyme (or any chronic illness) is often like riding a unicycle while trying to juggle spoons. We get up in the morning, count our spoons, mount the unicycle, and take off down a dangerous road. Falling means we might miss work, or a rare social event. Dropping a spoon means we’ve got even less energy than we had before we started. And trying to ride a unicycle doesn’t help.

I often struggle with this feeling that everyone else has it together, and I am the one who is somehow missing something about life, relationships, God, the universe, etc. Having Lyme increases that feeling of inadequacy. “Why is everyone else able to ride their unicycle? Why does everyone else have all of this figured out?” The secret is, of course nobody does. We can never know all of the pain others are experiencing, or how on earth they got so many spoons while we have so few.

I decided to get off the unicycle. I decided to stop trying to be perfect, to “have it all together.” Nowadays, it’s more like an arduous walk between mile markers (or half mile markers). That’s the reality, and it’s okay. My journey with illness is my journey, and I don’t have to ride a unicycle while juggling spoons to complete it.

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