by Peter Waite
One of my favorite quotes is by Joseph Campbell, an American professor, writer and lecturer.
"We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us."
Sometimes that life isn't what we expect and coming to terms with the new reality of life with chronic illness is difficult and can be traumatic. I know it took me several years after my diagnosis with chronic illness before I found an inner acceptance and could re-point my compass in a new direction. It was as much of an emotional as it was a physical healing process. And the healing journey is never fully completed.
We must tend to our emotional and physical selves, so we can stay balanced as we strive to live happy and fulfilled lives.
Still it isn't easy.
The other day after coming home from a long day at work, my 9 year old son approached me as I walked in the door. "Dad, will you play catch with me in the back yard?". I wanted to say yes right away, I really did. But if you are like me, you are always making calculations like the following in your head:
"I can go play ball now, but if I do my Fibromyalgia will flare up and I'll pay for it with several hours or even a day of stiffness, pain, and discomfort. Is it worth the trade off? Or I could disappoint him and say no and spare myself of any pain."
I agreed to play catch with him largely because I want my son to know I care about him and to teach him some of the finer points of baseball. He is at an age where he compares himself to his friends. I don't want him to be the only kid among his friends whose dad won't play catch with him. Plus it is an opportunity to make connections and memories with him that will last a lifetime.
Afterwards I was more stiff than usual and did not sleep well, but I was comforted that what I had done was more important than my own well being.
But not all decisions are like that. Some are just daily tasks that must be done and have no greater meaning, but when added up can amount to significant difficulty.
For example, my yard requires mowing about every week in the summer time. I know if I spend an afternoon mowing the lawn and doing miscellaneous yard work that I will be exhausted the following day and pretty much be unable to have a productive day. It's just a fact. Sometimes I do it knowing the inevitable consequence. Other times, I make the mental calculation and decide it just isn't worth the downtime to me and I'll hire someone to do it for me. It's an adjustment I've had to make. I take a little hit to the old male ego on this one, but the trade off is often worth it.
I don't recall making calculations like this before chronic illness. It just wasn't a factor. And sometimes those closest to us - spouses, children, parents - don't understand the trade offs we make like this all the time. Sometimes it is easier for us to "let go of the life we have planned" and "accept the life waiting for us" with chronic illness than it is for our loved ones. That's where patience, love and understanding can help. We must be patient, just as we ask them to be.
No one ever said it was easy, but it's worth it.
Peter Waite, M.S., M.A. is founder and CEO of HealingWell.com, and holds graduate degrees from Utah State University and Brandeis University. Founded in 1997, HealingWell.com is the foremost support community on diseases, conditions, and chronic illness. HealingWell.com has been featured by BBC Online, USA Today, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Associated Press, the Industry Standard, Reader's Digest, PBS.org, Forbes.com, and USA Weekend Magazine. HealingWell.com has also been the recipient of numerous health industry awards. He enjoys spending his free time with his wife and four children.