Illness As a Gift



The single most important piece of healing after an illness is to accept that nothing is the same.  Even for a person like me, who not just embraces change but invites it in, realizing there is no going back to the life you once lived can prove challenging at times.

So, what has changed? Lots.  The ability to retain and recall information (There is truth to chemo brain!). Lack of estrogen to keep things running (Thank you Divigel). Overwhelmed with too much stimulus (Cannot complete a thought or make a decision).  Words come out of my mouth that have nothing to do with what I’m trying to say (Why is the waiter bringing me cheesecake when I ordered carrot?) Losing words altogether (“I’ll have the blue cheese burger with …. with….Honey help me out.  They’re orange and salty and are like French fries”. “She’ll have the sweet potato fries”.) Thanks, Steve!

How is it possible then that my illness has been the best gift I’ve ever received? Well for starters, nothing is the same which is both a blessing and a curse. I’ve already shared some of the curses (smiling as I do) so let’s chat about blessings. The blessings come in loving the way I now go about my days.  I was always a true optimist.  My glass was always more than half full, and I did my best to make the most of every opportunity.  My moods were steady and typically upbeat and I easily saw the good in the bad (many would say to a fault). You’d think that’s pretty good right? Well it gets even better!  What??!! Yup, it does…with a little forgiveness and self-acceptance.

Today as I continue to maintain my wellness, everything is on a more conscious level.  For starters, I no longer schedule multiple events on the same day.  I do my best to stick to one engagement per day so as not to stretch myself too thin.  To do this and have no guilty feelings surrounding it is a blessing. Maybe you’re already there and have been taking care of yourself like this for years.  Kudos to you, I hope you have been! But if you haven’t, you can work yourself into this space with a little self-forgiveness and acceptance.  Trust me, it’s such a beautiful place to be.

The gifts I’m specifically referring to are decisions I have total control over like accepting or declining invitations and attending engagements.  If you’re working multiple jobs in one day or going to school and then heading to work, that’s survival in itself.  There are plenty of ways to handle that kind of busy schedule with grace.  What I’m talking about here is managing the days when you already have a full schedule and invitations and engagements swiftly and steadily creep themselves in.  Will you say yes to the invite or will you honor your body, mind, and spirit, and gracefully decline in order to re-center, re-focus, and be still to give yourself rest?  We often put the feelings of our friends and family first and disregard our needs. What we tend to forget is that good friends and caring family members don’t judge and won’t pressure us. They won’t feel slighted if they want what’s best for us.

One day while having tea with my Mom, she excitedly shared with me dinner plans she had for our entire family; all 18 of us. The dinner happened to fall on a weekend when I was teaching and I very simply said, “That sounds nice Mom.  My family will be there, but I’m teaching that day so you won’t see me”.  She had scheduled the dinner for six, specifically around my class so I could make it.  But as I thanked her for considering my schedule, I reminded her I still had to teach the next day.  I needed to decompress after “being on” for ten hours and I needed to go over my notes for the following day. However lovely seeing my entire family would be, dinner with everyone would put me over the edge.  It would set me back and Mom understood as she usually does. The best part was that I did it guilt free.  Blessing!

Old me would NEVER have considered my own feelings, my own schedule, my own health and wellness, my upcoming work week and the need to stop. Take a breath. And decompress from a busy day of teaching. NO WAY would I have ever done that! When we’re honest with ourselves, a family dinner is more than dinner.  It’s visiting, helping set up, clean up, enjoying family and not wanting to leave.  It’s NOW, with my new normal, having difficulty switching hats quickly from instructor to aunt, sister, and daughter (and let’s not forget mother)  then putting that hat back on when I need to go over my notes before bed (and get a good 7 hours sleep on top of it all).  It just doesn’t happen for me anymore and that’s ok.  I accept it, bless it, and go to bed guilt free. That’s a huge gift.

There is a lot I put on my plate and I have the voices of several loved ones telling me so, but there is also a lot more that I NOW say, “No” to.  Can I help it if I’m easily excited and passionate about new things and my creativity just won’t let me rest?  It’s hard for me not to get involved but I NOW get involved differently.  Rather than running the conference, I NOW just attend (sometimes present but that’s a duty). Rather than become a yoga instructor, I simply enjoy the practice of yoga (although I am allowing some teacher training to squeak in next spring to deepen my practice). Rather than fake it and pretend my retention and recall is what it used to be, I’m honest and ask people to help me when I need it. (Ego checked at the door)  My spelling is shot. I forget names. I can seldom remember how I know you if you’re not family or a close friend. I shy away from telling stories any more because I can’t keep myself on track.  But I will tell you that to your face and ask for your forgiveness at the same time.

I‘d love to see the thought patterns my brain goes through as the words come out of my mouth.  I often question whether the word I want to use is being used properly so I fish for another word or describe what it is I need to say to get my point across.  All this in a split second.  I can’t seem to “land the plane” as my dear friend puts it. But I do this as a means to buy myself time to hopefully get my story back on track.

Just this past Christmas at Steve’s holiday party, I totally blanked out while saying hello to the wife of a friend of ours. There was a lot going on when she came up to me and gave me a big hug and a kiss and I put my hands on her shoulders, looked into her eyes and said, “I’m sorry, I’m having a hard time placing you right now”.  “ “Jenn, it’s me, Lindsay.” Oh brother! It’s bad sometimes. Some people are better at understanding than others, but you know what? I can’t worry about those who are not understanding at this point. Fortunately, Lindsay was a doll about the situation.

I don’t dwell on my new normal; I have learned to accept it, laugh at it (God knows my family has) and move forward to celebrate the fact that I’m alive to lose words and forget faces.  I think the trade-off is wellworth it.

So the moral of the story is, accept where you are and honor the path that got you there.  There are blessings and curses and gifts all along the way if you pay attention. They work seamlessly together to grow you into the best version of yourself if you let them.  Let them.  Blessings are always a treat, but even curses have their silver linings. Sometimes they can be the best gifts you can ever receive.

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