I’ve been working more hours lately, and my energy is improving. I am grateful for the gradual improvement in my POTS symptoms and my overall health. I am also grieving the many years of self-abandonment that led me into this long and painful process. I suppose this is the main lesson of last year’s crisis: that self-abandonment is self-destruction. I see that remaining in a driven career that was not aligned with my values or temperament set me up to feel permanently off kilter, developing one persona layer after another to try to fit in, to cope. No wonder my body started to block me–or rather, to rescue me.

But there is another aspect to this. It is as if I have lost the last 15 years of my life because I was so maladapted to the role I thought I should play. Now I don’t want to be that person or have that life and career. The false importance of it all, the artifice and emptiness of “fast” culture depresses me. And what confidence and stability did I build during those years? I feel like I’m starting over at 45 with no experience, and by that I mean experience that feels true to my core and my strengths. I know I do have deep experience, emotional intelligence, and talent. But I feel like a tender mollusk trying to form a new kind of shell before I can make my way onto the sea floor with some sense of integrity.

I have been networking and experimenting with vulnerability and transparency. It is uncomfortable to tell people I am meeting for the first time that I am healing from a health crisis and had to take time off work. In most situations I look across the table and perceive judgment and something else that brings up my fear and isolation. My challenge is to remain firmly in myself, to hold the gaze, to stay true to my words and my experience without catapulting into shame. It’s an act of courage and love, and it is so hard.