Navigating Life With a Chronic Illness (or Two)

After six years of being seriously ill, in early 2011, I spent three months offline and out of my office recovering from extensive surgery. Truth be told, it was life-saving, life-changing surgery. And that made it non-negotiable.

Non-negotiable was often the only way self-care got done. I didn’t have the best track record for self-care, or for stopping to smell the proverbial flowers. Like many entrepreneurs, who have too much to do and too many people depending on them, given a choice I’d run the engine until the service light came on.

But becoming chronically ill forced me to acknowledge that, despite having a business, managing my health had become my full time job.

I had to let go of the belief that I wasn’t working hard enough or that it was somehow my fault that my business wasn’t more successful. I was viewing my life through an old lens and it became imperative for me to reframe how I was choosing to see things.

When it comes to living with chronic illness and pain, life can be hard. We need inspiration to soften that hardness, but we also need space and freedom to be vulnerable about what is hard.

There is definitely a connection between our thoughts and how that affects our bodies because when we look at the whole of being human, we are after all, energy.

And that’s where how we deal with both the positive and negative experiences life brings to us comes in to play so profoundly.

But, it’s never about blame — blame is as dangerous and useless as guilt. There is no fault. Only discovery, centering, challenging beliefs and modifying our focus.

I’ve seen truly amazing people who’ve risen above what others can only imagine with a sense of grace, belief and always, hope. Maintaining equilibrium in the face of a life that ebbs and flows is so much better than telling people if they will it hard enough, or follow these three steps, it will come to be.

How you work with and around your problems defines you as a person. Not what happens to you, but how you choose to deal with it.

I used to think that meant being stoic and positive all the time. Now I realize that to do this is only allowing myself to be partly human. In order to be fully human, I need to experience both the positive and negative feelings that come with any experience.

Not wallow in these negative experiences, but simply allow them the space to “be.”

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How many of you who are dealing with chronic illness and/or chronic pain are running a business at the same time?

What are your biggest challenges – from yourself and the world around you?

What do you wish people knew about what your life is like on a day-to-day basis?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section and let’s get a conversation going.

 

 

Like a Phoenix Rising (Again)

I’m sitting in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, something that’s become more and more a part of my routine than I’d like to admit.

Most days I genuinely feel I’m on a Shero’s journey and I’m grateful to be alive, despite the numerous health challenges that have plagued me for the past twelve years.

Most days I go about the doctor visits, hospital admissions, tests, blood draws, and I.V. infusions as if it was just something I do, like brushing my teeth or taking a shower. Just part of life. My life anyway.

But as I sit here this morning, waiting for my name to be called, I’m feeling a weight heavy on my heart. I pick through the various adjectives, trying to lay claim to the one that fits what I’m feeling. And then I realize what it is.

It’s grief.

Bone-crushing, heart-wrenching grief.

Grief for the life I used to have before the diagnosis that changed everything.

I want to lay down my armor and sink into the sorrow. The regret.

I want to cry.

But of course I don’t. And not because there is a room full of people (many dealing with their own significant health challenges), but because I rarely give myself permission to be vulnerable. Especially around my illness. I soldier on and tell myself I could have it so much worse, or that I’ll be letting others down, or that it’s self-pitying to allow the negative feelings room to breathe.

These feelings are further complicated by the messages I received as a child.

The tape that plays for me says I only receive love and attention when I’m hurt or sick. It’s not true, of course, but it was definitely the case as a child, and throughout my life I’ve let that internalized belief impact my ability to see myself as healthy and whole. There’s been a push-pull relationship with that little girl who got attention the only way she could and the woman who knows I am worth so much more than that.

And if I’m honest, there is a residual shame that surfaces when I remember those times I sought out solace, looked for love through the lens of sickness.

I worked hard as I moved into midlife to rid myself of this worn out tape. Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro at 41 (after more than a year of intense training), cut back on my beloved Mike and Ike’s (and all sugar – much more difficult than climbing a mountain), began eating organic fruits and vegetables, enjoyed protein-rich shakes and probiotics.

I was 45 before the image I carried of my inner self finally felt congruent with that of my outer self. I thought I’d outrun my past, but life surely loves irony, and at the peak of my ‘health’ I became seriously ill.

Being sick brings up all kinds of vulnerabilities for me.

Shame.

Doubt.

Insecurity.

Self-blame.

In our current culture so much credence is placed on positive thinking and the Law of Attraction and, of course, in my work as a coach I’ve heard my fair share of well-known experts espousing the belief that we bring to our life what we really, truly want.

I’ve even been known to tout these mantras a time or two (or three). But couched within these well-meaning belief systems is a more insidious message: That if bad things happen, somehow we’ve asked for it. And that’s too close to blaming the individual for what are often experiences well beyond our control.

The reality is people get sick, bad things happen, and no amount of positive thinking or willing prosperity is going to change that. What we do have control over is how we choose to deal with what life brings to our door.

Sitting in the waiting room as I work through the grief that hit me like a tsunami, I open up to the understanding that being sick also means I’m human.

I’m human.

I’m not getting out of being in this imperfect body for the duration. And really, I wouldn’t want to.

Despite the vulnerabilities that come up. Because of the vulnerabilities that come up.

I realize it isn’t about preventing life from happening – in all its glory and pain. It isn’t about thinking of ourselves as weak or damaged when life throws us a major curve ball. It’s about what we do with what we’re given – how we choose to rise above, how we choose to be fully human.

I realize it’s no better to see the glass as ‘half full’ than it is to see it as ‘half empty.’ The reality is that it’s both. The wisdom comes in seeing both sides, and becoming empowered to deal with the whole glass effectively.

And with that understanding, I free the tears that have been aching to be released. I free myself.