Do you find yourself thinking at random times about something you’ve just read, seen or heard? A phrase pops into your head as you’re fixing a meal, taking a shower or walking the dog (ok, it’s true, I’m bored when I walk my dog) . That’s just what happened to me after reading, “The Unbreakable Laura Hillenbrand” in the New York Times. I’ve been a Hillenbrand fan since reading Seabiscuit: An American Legend almost 15 years ago. A few years after reading the book, I read her moving piece in the New Yorker, ‘A Sudden Illness’, about her life with chronic fatigue syndrome. I was struck by how beautifully she nailed what it’s like to live with invisible, unpredictable and insidious chronic illness. I was stunned that she could accomplish the extensive research and writing while being so ill.
A few years later Hillenbrand wrote Unbroken. I remember thinking at the time that she surely must have gotten better. Otherwise, how could someone so ill write this book that includes so much research and detail? After reading the New York Times article, it’s become clearer. She figured out what she could do and how to do it and then made it happen. But it’s just not as simple as that. I wish it were.
Laura Hillenbrand is a person with extraordinary will. Few of of us have that and fewer accomplish what she has done. When I read that she’s recently separated from her husband after 26 years, I started to think about what it takes to do small and big things when chronically bad health is a factor.
Sadly, too often difficult health takes a huge toll on relationships (have you read the guest post on Illness, Work and Marriage), famous and prolific writer or not. Do you know about The Wheel of Life, an exercise that helps you identify the balance and the ‘out of balance’ parts in your life? When the spokes (represented by such things as family, health, career, etc.) are ‘in balance’, the wheel turns smoothly. Conversely, it’s a bumpy road when some areas have more muscle than others. I’ve always wondered whether it’s possible or even desirable to try to make all the spokes equal. Especially, when chronic illness throws a wrench into our priorities. I’m not an artist nor have I achieved the extraordinary. But I have a hunch that the “will” to achieve extraordinary things, out of necessity, creates even more of an out of balanced wheel. Some might say that’s a choice. Others might say that they have no choice – it’s just what it is.
We’re taught to believe that life is about making choices. Too often chronically difficult health leaves us making choices based on events we have no control over and the choices we have are limited. This can be profoundly disappointing and sad. But consider this: when you accept that you’re doing the best you can, isn’t that the best choice you’ve got?