What happens when you discover a ‘silver lining’, a source of light within the devastation that debilitating and difficult health brings?
Are you grateful that you’ve found some source of satisfaction? Do you second guess whether you’re as ill as you think? Do you find yourself wondering about your real motivations?
It’s easy to understand how you might get there if you feel grateful that illness provides you with justification to not do something you don’t enjoy doing anyway. Here’s an example of what this looks like. A client told me that she worries because “...illness is letting me off the hook. ” As she tells it, she’s been able to turn over child related activities that are physically taxing (such as watching soccer games) and all household chores to her husband and babysitter. She wouldn’t have done this before she became so depleted and can do so now only because she and her husband agree that without this additional support, she wouldn’t be able to keep up at her job.
The problem for her is that this arrangement actually suits her because she didn’t like doing that stuff anyway. And, that’s the nub of the problem. She feels ashamed because she believes that living with illness should be difficult to bear, not a bonus.
Do you find that sometimes you just can’t give yourself a break? I asked her if she’d have felt guilty 5 years ago when she was still a healthy working mom who didn’t go to her kids’ athletic events or do the meal prep because she needs that time to work? She said yes. Shame has always been her default feeling, particularly when she meets resentment about her choices. But this time, saying it aloud, she had that ‘ah hah’ moment and saw how this thinking gets in her way.
Let’s face it. We bring to the experience of living with difficult health the person we were before we got sick. If you’re fortunate, you have the capacity to use this experience as an opportunity. It opens the possibility to lies develop new muscles that allow you to shut out what others say and listen carefully to the part of you that knows what you can and can’t do. I confess that there have been many times over the past 36 years when I’ve doubted whether I’m as sick as I think or wondered if I could/should push harder to do something that seems out of reach. I can’t imagine how one doesn’t have these thoughts. And they’re an energy suck.
This is not, however, the same as wondering, “Am I lazy and selfish and using illness as an excuse?” Sadly, too often others might suggest that. My experience is that this isn’t the norm.
If you do believe this, however, you might consider this. Rather than continuing to believe that “I feel guilty because illness is letting me you off the hook”, you might consider this challenge: climb down off that hook and develop your capacity to feel comfortable with the choices you make, regardless of your health. No doubt, debilitating health makes it harder to do this because it limits options and leaves you emotionally depleted. All the more reason to put attention on your negative thinking, a place where you can take charge.
Chronic illness is a life changing event that creates a sense of limbo and alienation from those you love most deeply. I’ve seen how it can cast a spotlight on who we are if we’re willing to look. Like any major life event, it offers the opportunity to work on those parts of our selves that are the most difficult to change and most in need. It takes time, patience and lots of support.
Of all the Olympic sports, I most love watching sprinters. But this life, dear reader and fellow traveler, is a marathon. Stop for those water breaks but do keep on running, in whatever way you can.