“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.”John Steinbeck
During a conversation with someone from the chronic illness community yesterday, we compared notes on how part of our own journey of coping – with difficult diagnoses and prognoses and the devastating impact of our diseases – was being able to face up to loss and own it as an inevitable part of our lives.
I have late stage Lyme disease, and a host of other health related and auto-immune problems after first being diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue syndrome when I was in my late teens. The past thirty years of my life I have had better health, or worse health, and I have nearly died seven times, but I have never been well. I have fatigue, pain, and a long list of symptoms every day, and I live mostly silently with those. I live my life from a platform of illness, debilitation and limits.
I live my life alongside a whole lot of loss.
It started in my teens. My university and then career choices had to change, to cope with my limited energy and cognitive function. My health situation has meant that I may have turned up to your social event but gritted my teeth and endured it rather than enjoying myself. I’ve dragged myself through holidays, family events, work events and outings with friends when all I wanted to do was stay home in bed. But if I hadn’t made the effort I never would have had those memories, or been to those places, or done those things, or caught up with those loved ones. The price was high.
There have been so many events where I was too unwell to attend. I’ve never been able to have children. I had to give up playing music and for years I had brain injury issues that made it impossible for me to write well or to read for pleasure. I have no stamina for exercise or late nights. I no longer drive. There is a big list of things I have wanted to do that will remain ever out of reach.
I have spent endless months during countless years bedridden, or in a hospital bed, or working from home for myself because I am essentially unemployable.
So I feel well placed to talk about the current Coronavirus situation and the losses it may reign down upon you right now. You may be missing family events, your wedding may need to be postponed, your job may have ended, your holiday plans trashed, your bank account or your share value may be decimated. Your world may have shrunk suddenly small.
I’m so sorry. It’s crap. I won’t try and paint it otherwise. It’s not how you wanted things to be, it’s not supporting your dreams or your plans, or reflecting all your hard work. And that’s unfair.
It’s okay to feel the pain of that loss. It’s okay to be angry, to cry, to grieve. To feel lost or empty or broken. Allow yourself that. Allow yourself to feel your feelings.
But don’t stay stuck there.
My life has been categorised by loss, but that has rarely been where my focus is. If I stayed looking at all I have lost I would never get out of bed. Or I’d be down on the floor in a tearful heap. Or I’d be catatonic with the pain and horror of it all.
That would rob me of everything I have left and every possibility and opportunity still in front of me.
I finally found a way to cope with loss so that I can keep on living, and so that I can still find moments of happiness and a deeper meaning for my life.
What I have found is that the best way to cope is to feel my feelings and then embrace the truth of the loss. It is what it is. I can’t change it. It’s sad, devastating even, but it’s done.
Then I focus on what I CAN do, what I CAN be grateful for, what blessings remain in my life or that show up later to silver line those awful clouds of doom I keep sailing through.
It doesn’t change what is. I will never be the person I wanted to be, or do many of the things I had dreamed to do with this one precious life. But this life IS still precious. It is still filled with meaning and love and work and value. Despite the loss, or perhaps because of it. Maybe these losses have shaped me into the person I needed to be.
In this year of Coronavirus loss and disruption is inevitable.
Worse, you may lose someone you love, or even your own life. But what guarantee were we ever given that we would be immune from suffering? What makes us different to anyone else? We never know how long our lives will be, or what might befall us. It’s all a risk. It’s all an adventure. And it can be messy, as much as it can be magical.
If you are able to embrace the truth of that, and find a way to make room for that knowledge, I promise that you’ll find yourself developing resilience and you’ll begin coping better. You’ll find your inner strength. You’ll find your way forward.
Know that you’re in my daily prayers and meditations. You’re stronger than you know, and together we will get through this.
All my love, Nicole xx