When I was feeling my worst, I was doing all I could just to keep my head above water. I went into crisis mode. On top of feeling terrible and being exhausted all of the time, I really had no idea what was causing my flares of pericarditis. So I was living in fear. I was afraid that I would walk too much and have chest pain again. I was afraid that too much stress from school and home life would cause me to flare. I never knew when or where I would be when I’d flare and it made me feel paranoid. I always had to be prepared, so I routinely kept my prescription of prednisone in my bag in case I needed a higher dose.
I was talking with a good friend of mine the other night who is currently living this reality. He doesn’t have pericarditis, but his illness is no less mysterious or maddening. In talking with him, I was reminded of a counselor I saw during nursing school. She was in training to become a licensed counselor, and she had an office on campus at the community college I was attending. I remember time and again going in and talking with her and just voicing my frustrations with the way that my whole world had been suddenly turned upside down. I spoke of my fears and the unpredictability of my illness. I spoke of not recognizing my own body, because I had gained so much weight from being on steroids. I spoke of my dismay that after a year of struggling with recurrent bouts of pericarditis and even a second hospitalization, that none of my doctors could offer me any answers. All they could tell me to do was to take prednsione to suppress my immune system and prevent the inflammation around my heart. One day, as I was really struggling, I went to talk to my counselor. She pointed out the fact that I was grieving my lost health. It was a light bulb moment for me, because I had never thought about it like that before. She was right. I WAS grieving for my lost health. My mind was having a hard time accepting my new body and the restrictions that came with it. It was difficult to wrap my brain around the fact that I had been healthy, had exercised regularly as part of my work, and had eaten healthy as a long-time vegetarian.
When I realized that I was grieving, and my counselor went over the stages of grief with me, oddly enough, I felt a great sense of peace come over me. It made me feel normal about how I was feeling. I could see that the ups and downs of anger and sadness and back around again were part of my grieving process. Knowing this allowed me to release expectations I had for my emotions through this time. I began to accept my emotions, and I was more open to allowing them to flow.
So I ask you, the one dealing chronic illness, are you grieving for your lost health? Are you grieving for the life you feel that you have lost? If so, know that it is normal and OK, and that it is better to feel your emotions and release them as they come up than it is to keep them locked tight inside your chest. We sometimes think that we’re doing ourselves a service by locking our emotions up so that they can’t spring out and consume our hearts, but the reality is that if we allow ourselves to feel our feelings as they come up, in whatever form they appear, we will be able to heal much more quickly. Emotions that aren’t expressed get trapped in our bodies and lead to more pain and dis-ease.
It was the most challenging time of my life. I felt so alone and helpless. I looked for silver linings as best I could and I pushed through my exhaustion so that I could be present for my son. I wondered if I would ever regain my health. I wondered if I would ever feel comfortable in my own body again. I wondered if I would always have to be fearful that things I did might cause a flare.
I write this on the other side. I have gained perspective on life and on my health challenges that I would not have gotten had I never gotten sick. I have experienced a total transformation of self that was brought on by my years of illness. I was asked to take a more balanced approach in caring for my body, mind, and soul. I was asked to tear down the beliefs I held about myself and my life that made me feel bad. I was asked to reexamine the way I was treating myself and how I was showing up for myself. My illness caused me to turn over every rock so that I could find all of buried thoughts and beliefs that were holding me back in life. I was shown what was important in life. I was taught to not sweat the small stuff and to appreciate everything and everyone I have in my life while I have them. I was taught the delicate nature of life. I was taught that there are no guarantees in life and so we should make the most of every day. What is it that you might learn from your own challenges? It helps me to look for lessons in challenges now, because I see how perfectly my illness was placed in my path to expand me to heights I didn’t know were possible. It has made me trust the process now when things aren’t going the way my mind wants them to go. Even when I can’t see the full picture as to why something is happening, I live with a great sense of trust that the Universe always has my back. The Universe (or god, source, higher power etc) always has your back too.
Above all, I was taught that self-love is the key to life. The love we hold for ourselves trickles outwards from us, so that we can love each other in a more balanced, non-judgmental and unconditional way. How much do you love yourself? Do you find ways to show yourself love every day? Self-love involves loving all parts of ourselves. That can be the tricky part. It’s easy to love myself when I am happy and laughing. I have a more difficult time loving myself when I lose my temper or raise my voice in anger. I am learning and growing just as we all are. We’re all works in progress, and that process never stops. We just keep expanding. We keep learning how to respond to life vs react. We keep learning to keep an open mind and open heart with how we approach ourselves and others.
If you’re reading this, you survived another day. Just keep being gentle with yourself in whatever life circumstance you’re in currently. Your illness may be requiring that you slow down for now, get the extra sleep, limit the stressors in your life, give yourself some extra love, and put yourself first for a change. Can you see the ways that your body is crying out for more love? Notice the shift when you view your own illness this way. When we take care of others when they are sick, we don’t get mad at them and their bodies for needing more care, right? We don’t curse at our friends and family and make them feel guilty for being sick. So then, why do we treat ourselves that way?
I went from a time when I was really ill and wondering “why me?” to now when I realize that facing a complicated illness like Lyme Disease and not just surviving it, but thriving beyond it is one of my superpowers in this life. This is why we humans must be careful with the labels that we place on things, because sometimes it is difficult to know “good” from “bad” when we’re in the thick of it. I’ve said it before, but I went from calling my illness “the worst thing that ever happened to me” to “one of the best things that has ever happened to me.”
Know that it might take more love and care than you have ever allowed for yourself before, but that we can all rise up above our challenges and see brighter days ahead!
Part of my soul’s purpose is to help others navigate through their own illnesses and challenges in life using the perspective I’ve gained. If you’d like some personalized support and guidance, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org! My favorite thing is combining the healing power of Intuitive Reiki with Joy Coaching to help others move through their chronic illness with more support than I had during my own healing journey.
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Watch the video for Michael Franti’s song “Once a Day” HERE This is what Michael Franti posts about this song:
“‘Once A Day’ is about unexpected moments in life. Some days we have unexpectedly beautiful moments and others that are unexpectedly challenging. Last year I had a really challenging moment when my son was diagnosed with a kidney disease called FSGS (Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis). We thought it would break our family apart, but moving through the initial tears, made us realize life is precious and that we need to hug, kiss and be close to each other every day and through that we could ‘rise up’ and face his illness together. I hope that Once A Day brings inspiration to anyone in this world who is going through challenging times. Through music, dance and gratitude for this life we can all ‘Rise Up’!” –Michael Franti