Two-Ness in the Face of Chronic Illness

Two-Ness in the Face of Chronic Illness

Pastor and Enneagram teacher Hunter Mobley shares how being an Enneagram Two affects his life and relationships as he lives with chronic illness.

The warm blanket and heated pillow are enticing me toward a nap, but the beeping of machines and busy bustle of nurses ensure that I—a perennially light sleeper—won’t fall asleep. Today is infusion day. I come every twenty-eight days to Vanderbilt’s Multiple Sclerosis Clinic for my monthly cocktail. My journey with MS is newish, and this is only my sixth monthly trip to the infusion clinic. I still have a lot to learn from the MS veterans who sit in the chairs beside me and smile compassionately as I take my seat.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Enneagram and chronic illness. As someone who spends a couple of weekends each month traveling to different cities teaching about the transformative potential of the Enneagram, I speak often about the different layers that form our exteriorized selves, beyond our personalities. Trauma, birth order, gender identity, and the street that we grew up on form layers to our onion that have to be attended to and named as we navigate our Enneagram type with the goal of uncovering our true self—or as I like to think, the Christ in me and the Christ in you.

I’ve added a new layer to my onion in the last year—chronic illness—and am just beginning to learn how this new companion will join with my Enneagram type to influence my life and growth. I am an Enneagram Two. In my best moments, my Two-ness allows me to connect in empathetic and helpful ways to the people that I love. In my less proud moments, I give to loved ones and strangers alike in undisciplined ways and then become exhausted and resentful when all my giving isn’t recognized and reciprocated. Nice, huh?!

Because life exists in mystery and paradox, I am already noticing the (both-and) good and bad that MS inflicts.  I am learning to pay attention to my body in ways that I never paid attention before. Stress and lack of sleep are symptom triggers, and I am learning to be honest about the relationship between stress and my ability to walk and move. I have to be more honest about my needs and my feelings as medical staff and loved ones check in with me about my journey. I am learning to slow down—sometimes—and to give myself permission to do less—sometimes.

My Two-ness also rears its head in unhelpful ways in the face of chronic illness as I struggle to admit how I’m really feeling. As an Enneagram Two, I am well-practiced in putting on a smile, sending my own feelings and needs packing and letting everyone know that they shouldn’t worry because I’m doing great! I have so many years of needs-repression practice that I have lost touch with knowing whether I’m being “too much” or “too little” as I talk to people about my health. If I share too many details about my fears of this disease and my symptoms that still linger, I worry that I have made the other person worry about me and that I’ve played the martyr. But, if I share too little about my honest experience with MS, I leave the conversation feeling like I’ve betrayed myself in some way.

I think that one of my invitations as an Enneagram Two on a new journey with MS is to learn how to tell my truth in a right-sized way. To share it honestly. To tell people the truth about how I am doing and what I’m afraid of, without downplaying or overplaying. More than ever, I want to embrace the Benedictine mantra of seeing the spiritual life as a journey of falling down and getting back up again, all the way home.

About the Author

Hunter Mobley

Hunter Mobley is an Enneagram teacher with Life in the Trinity Ministries, leading  Enneagram workshops and retreats around the country. He is the author of 40 Days on Being a Two. Hunter is the former executive pastor of Christ Church Nashville, and when he’s not on the road teaching the Enneagram, you can find him tending his law practice in Nashville or teaching at Belmont University’s law school.