Being sick means that you’re tired — emotionally tired, physically tired, spiritually tired. Tired of being sick. Tired of people telling you that you’re not really sick, that it’s in your head. Or telling you that you don’t have to be sick anymore, you can heal through prayer, with more discipline, by loving your illness, by eating tons of vegetables, or through sheer power of will.
What these well meaning people don’t understand is that nobody wants to be sick. You don’t want to be sick. Being sick sucks. You’re here, reading this, because you want out of this situation. You want change. You want to be well again.
And the truth is for some of us it will be a journey into illness and back out into some new version of wellness, for others we will be finding ways to adapt and heal despite the permanent or terminal nature of our illness. For all of us it is a journey. For all of us, our illness challenges us with the opportunity to look life right in the eye — and decide how we want to show up for it — over and over again.
I have a story for you from this weekend that shocked me. Not because of someone else’s insensitivity towards chronic illness, but because I actually found myself falling into that judgmental, doubting space.
It was Thanksgiving, of course, and the subject came up of a person close to us who was recently diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This person is a stay at home parent of a young child, – and has been having a hard time showing up for some key parenting responsibilities.
After talking about “the situation” I almost — almost — blurted out the question that was on all our tongues because they know the person better and are closer to the situation: “do you think it a real medical cause, or could it be __________(fill in the judgement)?”
As I opened my mouth to speak these words, I almost choked. For years I have been on the receiving end of that very same question. Loved ones, friends, doctors, have all intimated or overtly expressed the opinion that I just needed to “get over it.” Even after we finally got our Lyme diagnosis, the doubt persisted. Even as my children struggled through serious illnesses resulting from their weakened immune systems, or my youngest struggled for her life because of the neurological side-effects caused by Lyme, the doubt persisted.
Frankly, it still persists. Even now, when I am asked if I’m “cured,” I feel that there is an implication that if I am, I couldn’t really have been sick in the first place. I recently had a doctor who, upon seeing my current lab work, stated that I had been misdiagnosed, that I had never even been sick.
Yet there I was, self-proclaimed advocate for the chronically ill, slipping into that judgement space. And in judging him, I can more clearly see my own judgement of myself and illness in general.
Here’s the truth, as I’m sure many if not most of you already know: the worst doubter of all, the one who causes us the most harm, is ourselves. Until we have granted ourselves permission to actually acknowledge our illness, to be sick, we can’t heal. When we tell ourselves that it’s in our heads, or we can heal through prayer, with more discipline, by loving our illness, by eating tons of vegetables, or through sheer power of will, then we’re telling ourselves that we are not worthy. That this “illness” is somehow our fault, or scariest of all, that maybe on some level we deserve it.
So the first step to healing is acknowledging, deeply, that we have an illness. Once we’ve made that step, we can grant ourselves the permission to take what we need to care for ourselves and start healing.
In Part II, I’ll talk about building the foundations for self-healing and Chronic Wellness.