Can there be anything good about living with a chronic illness?
Not having your health, not being able to do 90% of what you used to do, and not being able to keep up sure don't sound like positives.
And yet, my floundering inability to keep up has been a gift in disguise, making my life better and more joyful.
How can I make such a seemingly absurd statement?
To understand, you'll need a bit of the backstory and a snapshot of my current reality.
On the surface, I am the picture of health. I look vibrant, alive and full of pep. You wouldn’t know anything is wrong with me merely by seeing my exterior.
On the inside, however, it’s another story entirely. I live with a debilitating disease that has completely turned my life upside down since its onset in 2012.
Severe fatigue and throbbing pain along with swelling, brain fog, and countless other symptoms characterize my day to day life.
The nature of my disease is such that my body has a small allowance of energy to expend each day. If I exceed this amount, there is a ‘debt’ to be paid – an energy deficit - in the form of bed-ridden malaise and supreme fatigue.
This means ‘basic living’ tasks are highly taxing.
Everything that needs to be done – dishes, laundry, groceries – requires an inordinate amount of energy, of which I have very little.
In the first few years I was miserable.
I felt doomed, depressed, and bitter.
I was consumed by frustration and despair.
“Why can’t handle as much as I used to?”
“Why does it take me so long to recover?”
“Why does the smallest thing overwhelm me?”
How could I, one of the fittest, healthiest people you can imagine, be unable to complete a walk around the block without pausing to rest?
I resisted accepting the reality and severity of my condition trying everything I could to keep up only to find myself floundering over and over again.
Each time I tried, my fatigue and exhaustion were so severe that I had to sit somewhere along the way before slowly trudging back to my apartment building.
But it was this repeated and imposed need to sit for long periods of time that prompted my transformation.
Being forced to remain in one spot, my attention began to focus on what was going on around me.
I began to notice my surroundings on a level I never had before.
The blades of grass at my feet that seemed to glow from within when the sun struck them at a certain angle.
The rushed passersby with their heads bent intently over their phones as they hurried down the sidewalk.
The mixed sounds of chittering sparrows, speeding vehicles and firetruck sirens.
The row of pigeons that huddled on different sides of the street depending what time of day it was and which way the sun was facing.
As nature seeped in through my senses and I began to develop a relationship with the living world outside my door, moments of clarity and life-altering realizations began to line up one after the other.
It became utterly clear to me that:
- Our obsession to make the most of our time, to chase after time, and not waste time is leaving us wired, tired, and disconnected from what really matters.
- Most of us are not actually living our lives but dashing through them, strangers to both the natural world and ourselves.
- We are so used to living by the clock - by mechanical time - that we’re out of touch with our own biological rhythms and the natural cycles of the earth.
- No matter how much we do we never feel we’ve accomplished enough in a day or that we’ve ‘caught up.’
- We’re so busy it’s all we can manage to get through the day before collapsing in bed, each day a confused blur of activity.
- The lack of stillness, silence, and space means our minds are cluttered by so much 'noise' we’re unable to hear our inner voice.
- We keep putting off our lives in the hope of future happiness. We believe that there will come a time when we’ll have what we want; that that indefinable ‘thing’ is just out of reach; that we’re not there yet’… that it is ‘getting somewhere’ that will make us happy instead of ‘being somewhere’.
- Our lives are over-scheduled and overfull but deeply unfulfilled.
- Worst of all we are unaware of the costs this disconnect has on our lives and well-being.
As the degree of disconnect and dissatisfaction afflicting everyone became unwittingly clear, an earth-shattering concept began to take hold…
Is it possible that just because the world operates as it does – like a 24-hr, non-stop roller coaster - doesn’t necessarily mean it HAS to be this way or that it is the best way?
Is it possible we don’t HAVE to be so busy, overwhelmed, and stressed as we are? That we are CHOOSING to make our lives more difficult than they need to be?
Perhaps what I need is what the rest of the world needs too.
A slower pace.
A deeper, more engaged connection with nature.
A re-inhabiting of our 3-dimensional, multi-sensorial bodies.
Better boundaries from the barrage of social media and our hyper-stimulating world of screens.
Is it possible to find a happy medium when it seems like there are not enough hours in a day to complete it all?
I say yes, there is.
But we need to stop trying to ‘keep up’ and get it all done.
We need to understand there will never be a ‘right time’ nor the right conditions to live our lives.
There will always be more to do than we can possibly complete.
There will always be some difficulty or circumstance to get through.
If we want to feel well, happy and live in calm instead of chaos we need to change on a fundamental level. We need to fully grasp how disconnected we’ve become and begin by slowing down and developing a meaningful connection with the three-dimensional nature outside our door.
But what does all this have to do with my floundering inability to keep up and making my life better and more joyful?
Well, I still can’t keep up BUT...
Having a body that won’t tolerate being pushed, ignored or have its limits overridden means I no longer whiz through my life half-numb, burnt out and absent. It means my childlike sense of wonder and joyfulness are daily occurrences in my life.
Because of my floundering inability to keep up, I don’t pause long enough to smell the roses; noticing and inhaling the intoxicating scent of the roses is a natural part of my life.
Instead, I pause to tend to the things that need tending to before returning to the present moment and bearing witness to my own experience of ‘being’ in the world.
P.S. If my words are hitting a chord of truth inside you, I urge you to act on it. Know that doubt will creep in and your rational mind will try to talk you out of it, but allow your inner wisdom to overrule and act as the compass from which you choose your direction. You have far more power over how you spend your time and live your life than the world makes it seem.
Thank you Kaliopi for sharing your story. You are not alone. I had a similar life changing experience that continues to shift how I chose to live my life every day, and where & how I expend my precious energy. A gift and a challenge every day.