There are two ways I can look at my illness: 1. “It was the end of my world” or 2. “It was the start of a Brave New World.” Today, I choose option #2. The option of Hope, hope for a new world, a new beginning. I am in no way trying to profess that this was an easy choice! I lived with both perspectives and took time before making a final decision. I don’t think I would be in the place of peace I am today if I hadn’t lived with both the Paths of Despair and of Hope.My hope lies in the recognition of an opportunity to reinvent my life.
I can actually have gratitude for my chronic illness today (imagine that!). Because when I look objectively at my life “in the now,” I have been afforded opportunities to discover and develop parts of myself I didn’t even know existed before. In saying “before,” I mean the time before my autoimmune disease (Polychondritis, Fibromyalgia, Migraine, Chron’s) stopped me from working, and let’s be honest, engaging in most of my previous activities. In this “T.B.,” I was a Type-A, “go, go, go girl!” I was (egotistically) proud of my ability to multitask and juggle all parts of my life, during all parts of my day. No breaks! Believing all that “idle hands make idle minds” crap. I mean, really, what was I constantly rushing around for? Sure I received accolades and “atta girls” from all facets of my life. But, in the end they were just words; words with no real meaning because they didn’t originate from within me.
Lately I’ve begun to look at this change in my life differently…
I’ve started to celebrate the fact that I was given the gift of reinventing myself! I look around and see most people on the same path for 40+ years of their adulthood. And many are content with their journey. But few, too, are afforded the luxury of stepping off the established path and taking side-trails until they re-discover a new route that fits for the next phase of their life. Luxury? How can I call chronic-illness a luxury?! Well, for as much as it has taken away from me (which is plenty!) it has returned, just in different forms than I was used to. It would be (and has been) easy for me to overlook these new “gifts” ahead of me because I am spending my time looking back at all the things that have been stolen from my life, on a constant hunt to retrieve that which has been lost. It’s not atypical to be stuck on what once was and is now gone; because trusting in an unknown future is a far scarier prospect. But this approach only caused me constant emotional pain, regret, sadness, and emptiness.
Then, one day, I decided to look forward. I picked up one of these “new gifts” lying in my (new) path and opened it. Inside I discovered an opportunity to awaken my inner artist. It came in the form of a night nurse who suggested I begin beading to pass the time during my lengthy hospital stays. I was quickly hooked, finding this quiet, meditative activity deeply soothing to my mind and pain fluctuations. In a short time, I was selling my creations out of my “hospital room storefront” (no joke!) to all the staff. This first step on this Road to Artist boosted my confidence and helped me to feel productive again. The best gift was the positive energy I gained and shared with the influx of visitors coming in and out of my room, nurturing my own Soul Beacon of Hope.
After veering off what I thought was going to be “My Path for Life,” which I blamed my illness for taking from me, I realized the first step was the hardest. I’ve taken many breaks along this new way, some chosen by me and some chosen for me by my ailing body. But when I reflect on the anguish I first felt at “losing” all the things I thought made me “me” and then I fast forward 7 years to today, I discover that I am now an artist, a writer, a truly present friend and wife, a seeker of peace, a role-model of hope and acceptance, and a Survivor! I started to look at all things I’ve gained. No, none of those things would be placed on a resume. But for me they are far greater accomplishments than all of my professional and schooling achievements. They are my re-invention of self!
Just the other day, in the midst of painting, my husband commented, “You know, in a strange way, you getting sick was a blessing. You would never have become the artist you are today if you had continued to be so consumed with work.” And he’s right! It used to be hard for me to recognize that a blessing of this magnitude could arise from such severe, sudden illness. Oh, I’ve always had a hopeful heart and been able to recognize small, daily gifts of gratitude, from a helpful friend to a stunning sunset. But, again, this was gratitude for all the things outside of me. To have gratitude for what’s within me?. . . now that’s a truly miraculous discovery!
I was able to pursue a solid career in early childhood education for 15 years. Now, I am on Re-Invention Phase Two: becoming both a Creative Person and a Beacon of Hope for others. Herein lays the miracle: I can reinvent myself again at any time! It may be self-directed or Universe-directed, but either way, I am staying open to the change. And am embracing the NOW… where I can truly find gratitude in being sick!