As I sit here, I can honestly say that my soul is content. After an ungodly amount of work, our outside sitting area is complete. My dogs are happily playing in their yard and the multitude of birds are singing their collaborative song. I feel abundantly Blessed and immensely grateful. It’s a stark contrast to how I’ve felt in most of the last almost 8 years of living with chronic illness. As I write these graceful, positive words, it’s in direct contradiction to how my body feels; painful, stiff, exhausted. And that’s what drives me to write this post. It isn’t medicine, hope or the promise of a cure that has instilled how I now feel inside. Instead, it is acceptance and gratitude.
I grew up in a family and home that was *anything but* accepting. Everything I said and did was wrong, to everyone, always. That deep seeded disapproval, in large part, directly contributed to who and what I am. I never truly accepted myself in life. I always sought to be better, try harder, work more, achieve more. It’s a shame because in all those years, I never truly learned to appreciate the beauty of the moment I was living in. I never accepted the here and now. So when I got sick, it was no different.
- I couldn’t accept that I got sick.
- I couldn’t accept I would never get better.
- I couldn’t accept living this way the rest of my life.
- I couldn’t accept how other people viewed me.
- I couldn’t accept this was my life.
And what that all really boiled down to was that I couldn’t accept myself.
In the first few years I was sick, it was bad. I’ve just recently had family and friends tell me they thought I was going to die. And I certainly felt that way; both physically and mentally. As I sit here and write this, both gratitude and fear fill my heart. Gratitude that I have improved and fear that I can always return to that place, never actually knowing why I improved. But I have a theory.
Somewhere along that way, my entire attitude shifted. Maybe it was the love of a dear friend instilled in my life and taken soon afterward. Maybe it was the unwavering love and support of my Husband. Maybe it was my best friend and her constant reassurance or my children and their beautiful compassion. And maybe it was eliminating my super toxic, nauseatingly sanctimonious family. Regardless, somewhere along this journey, I made the crucial transition towards accepting myself. And it has made all the difference in the world.
My acceptance is far from complete and still flounders. But the biggest piece of all this is that at some point, I have accepted what is. There are still days I have to constantly remind myself not to focus so much on feeling badly. There are still days I cry in frustration and pain. But overall, the anger, guilt, incredulance and “why me’s” have passed. And it is a powerful phenomenon. Instead of pouring my energy into those destructive emotions, I have cleared space in my heart and mind to accept my circumstances and moreover, to make room for gratitude in their wake.
- I have come to accept that getting sick is not my fault. It just happened.
- I have come to accept that I will have down days and down weeks
- I have come to accept that I now live with tremendous limitation
And I have come to accept that much of my life will be spent plainly feeling awful.
With that acceptance has come the astonishing power of gratitude and I wish I had found it years ago. When not focusing on the all that is lost, I now have the room to focus on all that remains.
- With each down time, comes it’s abatement
- With each loss, something has been found
- With every pain, comes it’s eventual relief
- With every harrowing strife, has come a resolution
And at the end of each of these sits an opportunity to be grateful.
Whilst certainly not always easy, it is finding the gratitude in each of these that has shifted my entire life perspective. That, in turn, has led to what I think we all strive for: happiness.
I had a childhood friend who “got” cancer and after her diagnosis, some of us reconnected to support her, after 25+ years of not speaking. It was terrible and ravaged her life both physically and emotionally and her entire life fell apart. In that process, the cancer completely consumed her. She beat it, but in essence, the cancer won. Instead of ever having gratitude for the herculean win, she was only consumed by all she lost. At the behest of my best friend, I really tried to help her after she had exhausted everyone else. And I asked her to consider the following metaphor:
I begged her to look at life like a Kaleidoscope: just slightly turn it and the entire view would change. If she didn’t like the view or the colors, all she had to do was make the slightest adjustment and she would have an entirely new array in front of her. She was in control of all she saw.
In the end, while she lived, the cancer truly won and her bitterness and anger consumed her. Sadly, I eventually walked away too, (for many complex reasons beyond just those mentioned) but not without a lesson for myself: I didn’t want that to be me.
In some ways, at the time, I knew I was being hypocritical and I had a tremendous hike to achieve my own advice. It made me sad to think of a life without all of that color or splendor. Without knowing it, that advice became something I have come to live my own life by.
I have the power to control how I see my life. I have the power to change my view at any given moment. And in my hands, sits the ability to truly appreciate all of life’s splendor: if only I so choose.
So as I close, I will take in the beauty and color of the birds singing, this beautiful day and my dog barking endlessly at some imaginative Bigfoot in the woods. I will appreciate all I have and soak it in, knowing that in a few hours, I will most likely be super sick again on the couch.
I accept that this will happen and I am grateful for the moments I have until it does.
Much Love, Stace <3