“The individual who says it is not possible should move out of the way of those doing it.”
~ Tricia Cunningham
I’m not happy because I have a chronic illness – I’m happy because I still love my life! It’s possible, and in fact I think it’s necessary, to find happiness when life has dealt you a crappy hand. Let me explain…
Those of you who have been following my journey know that I’ve experienced poor health, interspersed with periods of being desperately ill, for my entire adult life. At least I finally have a diagnosis now – late stage lyme disease and a range of other bacterial co-infections that have invaded my brain, bones and organs. Having this undiagnosed illness for over 30 years has been a major challenge, physically and emotionally. And the path to healing for me is a long road too – two and a half to three years of a savage drug regime, coupled with other wholistic modalities, herbs and diet.
Chronic illness and disability is different to your average bout of being unwell, no matter how serious that short duration illness might be. By its very nature chronic illness means that the wallpaper of your life is incapacity, pain and limitation.
I call it wallpaper for a reason. When illness is a one-time short duration event it takes over your life, cuts you down at the knees and takes all your energy and focus until you are well enough to move on.
When you live with illness all the time, or a disability, it becomes like wallpaper. You truly learn not to notice it so much, or you find inventive ways to live with it. You adapt, even if that means shrinking your world down. And if that illness persists for a long period of time, one of the best coping strategies in the world is to keep living as normally as you can DESPITE that illness. Of course, your ‘normal’ may also need to be very different to the ‘normal’ of a healthy person.
One of the great gifts that has come out of my own illness is an ability to be grateful for the smallest things in life, and to put my focus on them. In that way I can find happiness and satisfaction even on the worst of days. On my best days, life is gloriously normal, and I revel in that normality. I appreciate the sorts of days that healthy folk take for granted.
People with chronic illness or disability can still have a life. We can still have interests and friendships, we can still go on outings or holidays, we can still create things, we can still laugh. In fact we must do these things, or what is left to us?
And that also gives me a great gift to share with you. I’ve found a way to be happy, engaged with life, and to keep working towards my dreams, even with illness and limitation. Oh sure, I have my moments. Days where I can’t get out of bed, days where I am wracked with pain or afflictions that prevent me from doing anything much at all. But there are enough days where I can focus on something positive and good that my life, on balance, is still a source of deep satisfaction to me.
What’s my secret? Gratitude, meditation, learning to appreciate a slower and simpler life, finding joy in a cup of tea, sunshine on my face, a beautiful flower, a well-written book, chats with a friend or a cuddle with my dogs.
We all experience ups and downs in life. It’s how we deal with those challenges that defines us.
If you’re experiencing physical or emotional challenges, I urge you to find some small positive details where you can muster gratitude, even if only for a moment. These bright points in a dark place can be life-saving, and even life-changing.
If you know someone with a disability or chronic illness, support them in their quest to enjoy life the best they can. I include being old, being a carer, and being a parent of very young children in this category as well.
Everyone copes better when we are included in the fabric of society. Everyone copes better when they have some sun on their face, a friend, an interest, an outing.
Everyone deserves to find happiness.
You might find these posts useful too:
On illness and being unreliable
Finding moments for yourself
How to do Tonglen Meditation – A beginner’s Guide