Friday, January 15, 2016

The Elephant in the Room

Living with a chronic illness, I struggle to not become bitter and despondent about my condition. It would be so easy to think about all the things I’ve lost (job, hobbies, social life) and get angry about the unfairness of it all. And then when I look ahead to a future where I am able to do less and less, I can quite easily give in to despair and hopelessness. I could live in this morass of darkness without any effort at all.

BUT - I don’t let myself go down that path. I don’t want to be a bitter, angry person, going through life complaining about how awful I have it all. Yet, the reality of my situation cannot be ignored. My illness is there, looming over every facet of my life. It is the proverbial elephant in the room. The elephant dominates everything - it gets in the way of me doing the simplest chore, making said chore become a huge physical challenge. It stands in the middle of the room, blocking my way to events and activities, keeping me trapped in my chair. It’s a big, stinky, immovable object, smack dab in the middle of my life!! 

I think we all know people who are struggling with hard things in life, but are so overwhelmed by them that they spend all their time telling you how awful their life is. They are bitter, angry,  unhappy people. I don’t want to be like that. Now, I’m not trying to say that when life throws you a curve-ball you should just plug your ears and sing, “La la la la - I can’t hear you!” When bad things happen, get mad, get angry! You should!! But don’t make your bed there and spend the rest of your life going over and over how bad things are and how unfair life is. You will make yourself miserable, and make those around you miserable, too! Who wants to live like that? Not me!

I do not want my illness to dominate my attitude. Despite the fact of its existence and power, I refuse to let it rule me. I acknowledge its presence and how it has forced me to change my life accordingly. BUT I REFUSE TO LET IT OVERPOWER MY SPIRIT. No, I can’t deny what it is and what it has done to my life, but I’m not going to make it my focus, or allow it to ruin what I have left in life. It is simply a fact of my life, and I need to make peace with it. It’s not that I pretend it’s not there - that would be impossible. I just try to live as best I can, in spite of the elephant in the room.

So, yes, I’m ill and disabled. (Hello, Elephant!) But there is more to me than my physical body, and I choose to live that life to its fullest. Naturally, I have to make accommodations for the elephant in the room (I’ve had to drastically rearrange the furniture of my life!), but I will not let the elephant destroy my happiness. I refuse to let it be the focus of my life! And, really, if you add some lovely draperies to it, an elephant can really spruce up a room! ;-)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

On Body and Spirit

Because I’m home all day, I do a lot of thinking. And, of course, I do a lot of thinking about my illness, and my response to it, and what God’s plan is for me through all of this. And recently, I’ve come across an interesting little idea. Let me see if I can explain it. 

Living with a chronic illness means that you are hyper-aware of your physical state at all times: Do I have the energy for a shower today? Can I do a load of laundry today? How sore am I? How tired? Did I do something yesterday to make things worse (or better)? It’s a constant state of checking in with your body and taking stock of its status. Because of this, I sometimes feel very selfish - I’m always focused on my needs and my abilities (or lack thereof). But, as my wonderful mental health counselor (the amazing Michelle Estelle, PhD, of Cornerstone Psychologists) said, “Self care is not selfishness.” She also reminded me that when I was healthy and working out, I also had to take stock of my physical state, so that I could tailor my workouts accordingly. But, still, it is more of a constant thing, living with this illness. Every activity throughout the day is prefaced by the thought, “Do I have the strength to do this?” In short, I’m practically obsessed with the state of my body.

On the other hand, this constant physical focus makes me aware of the spiritual reality that this is not my eternal state. One way that happens is the whole unfairness of the situation. It’s just not right that anyone should be saddled with a chronic, debilitating illness, slogging painfully through every day. This sense of injustice, recognizing the “wrongness” of it, makes me realize that my spirit knows how things should be, that my spirit knows - and yearns for - a place where my body won’t be broken. This, of course, is heaven, where my body will be in perfect health, without pain, without weakness. The injustice here points to the justice there. So, even as I am focused on my physical body here, and am dismayed at its failings, it serves to point my attention to a better place, and helps me look to spiritual things. The physical accentuates the spiritual.

This duality is very much in keeping with how God works. He uses the natural to point to the spiritual. The very model of this is Adam, the broken sinful man, pointing the way to Jesus, the whole and pure man. But there are examples all throughout the Bible: the mustard seed, the lowly manger, David and Goliath, and even the cross. God always uses the natural or the physical to point us toward the spiritual. In my life, my broken body helps me to remember the promise of a whole, healed body. So, even though I tend to focus on the physical state of my body, I can use this to remind myself of God’s promise that I won’t be like this eternally. And this promise reminds me of so many other of His promises, that I lean on daily. 

So, though it may seem I’m obsessed with my physical body, I can flip it upside down, and be focused on God. Instead of a constant reminder of my broken body and the unfairness of it all, my illness is a constant reminder of God’s goodness!*

*DISCLAIMER: Of course, I would definitely love to have a healed body, here and now! But I refuse to let my body’s failings blind me to God’s over-arching promises and goodness. This is the choice I make daily - hourly - in my life.