Chronic illness or life-threatening illness can really blow your mind. It can knock the wind out of your sails, but you can also learn things about yourself and about life in general. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the past decade — through my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and triple-negative breast cancer.
1. Illness is awkward. I’m not talking about having a cold or the flu or even a broken bone. I’m talking about life changing, in-your-face illness. It’s a reminder of how fragile we really are; it’s a reminder of our mortality. Some people have trouble figuring out what to do or say, and those of us who are ill aren’t necessarily any better at dealing with it. Let’s give each other some slack as we fumble our way through.
2. Life is all about change. Without change, life would be stagnant. Whether you’re ready for it or not, change will come. Sometimes, change makes life better in ways we could have never imagined. Sometimes, change is not for the better. Sometimes, it feels like the whole world is crashing down on us. The thing is, the world will carry on with us or without us, so we best pull ourselves together.
3. You can be a positive person without sticking your head in the sand. Living with a positive outlook can do amazing things for our bodies and our spirits. That doesn’t mean you have to go around with a fake smile all the time or pretend everything’s peachy when it’s not. We’re all entitled to a full range of human emotions. Get angry. Be sad. Go ahead and have a good cry. Just don’t let it stick around beyond its usefulness. Hanging on to negativity only helps it fester and it’ll rob you of strength.
4. Not everyone will ‘get you’ or your illness. Not everyone will try. Don’t knock yourself out trying to get them to understand, because it doesn’t matter. You probably don’t get everyone else, either, so be careful not to judge too quickly or too harshly. We can never truly walk in someone else’s shoes.
5. Less is more. It sounds trite, but when it comes right down to it, the simplest things can have the greatest meaning. A smile, a hug, the laugh of a child. When you’re sick for a long time, or when you’re fighting for your life, you begin to recognize busyness for the sake of busyness; ditch pointless time sucks, and put things in perspective.
6. Feeling good is a relative thing. Our bodies are as important as our spirits. There’s definitely a mind/body connection, and it’s a powerful thing. Our mood can affect our health, but our health can also affect our mood. When you’ve been ill for a long time, feeling good is just a matter of degree. You can have aches and pains, but still feel good because you feel better today than you did yesterday. Being mindful of that is good for body and spirit.
7. Our time is now. We can’t do a damn thing about yesterday and we can only plan so much for tomorrow. What we do have is today. Right now. This moment. Whatever our circumstances, this is the only moment in which we can truly live…and life is precious.
Photo: David De Lossy, photographer | Thinkstock