Chronic Healing

How to live despite and beyond chronic illness

Want Something Else

Six suggestions on finding satisfaction

rose with vase of water and ink
What we have is ready for us now
Katie Bamberger
I am not a fan of summer. It's not my season of choice. Even without an autoimmune disease triggered by too much heat, humidity and blazing sun, summer is not for me. My complexion ruled it out from birth forward. And, I'm a lousy swimmer, beaches are sandy, flying biting insects love me more than most humans do, and I get bored when there's absolutely nothing to do. Of course, I love nature. I love animals. I love the sea. I love the mountains. I'm not unaware of natural beauty in the world around us ...but I prefer it in limited amounts -- an adult form of pre-arranged play-dates.

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In Manhattan I am in a distinct minority. The city empties of most of my urban neighbors in these months, particularly on a holiday weekend like the 4th of July. This means that most of my friends leave. I often hear sidewalk chatter from Memorial Day to Labor Day, "we just have to get out of here." But I don't and can't get out of "here". Here is my life. Even if I wanted to go, I couldn't flee the rest of my reality. Wherever I take myself, all of myself comes right along with me, potentially causing all sorts of medical complications. I've learned to decline most out-of-town invitations and that's hard during the summer season when everyone seems to decamp to their "dachas" both elegant and modest.

I can become sad and isolated. After too many days of silence and solitude there is the temptation to review the list of what I didn't get to do in life or do not have. It's a fairly long list, and that's probably true for many others who have chronic illness. It's not about wanting wealth or possessions in my case, but is about the desire to have the freedom to choose things. But there's much I can't do or experience. In summer it's also about being left on the shore alone watching departing voyages of Noah's Ark with families of human animals who all seem to have one another. It's easy to slip into the mode of wondering how it happened that so much was denied or taken away because of illness. It's easy to feel eclipsed by the healthy, the mobile, and the happily attached.

I use a mental game during summers to help myself move forward into quiet realms of happiness and satisfaction. I've named it Want Something Else. Our parents probably called it: Be Satisfied With Your Life. Or, Be Grateful. Religions of all kinds have different words for it, but you know where I'm going - try to take sadness or loss out of your life by spinning the wheel to see what you do have to savor or at least appreciate.

My father was an eternal optimist, but not a fool. He was wise and patient with the job of living and took in the world around him until his dying breath. At a particularly difficult time I confessed my life was a quarter of a turn from complete disaster. He responded it was also a quarter of a turn from resolution or new adventures. Everything can usually be seen from both the negative and positive points of view. That's one of the tricks of playing Want Something Else.

Here's My Suggested Summer Chronic Healing Rx:

1. It's vacation season, so even if you're not going anywhere, give yourself a treat a day that's practical and affordable. Avoid food choices. Instead, choose something short to read each day that you wouldn't ordinarily read (so, not the newspaper). This summer, each morning I've decided to read one poem from Carl Sandburg's late volume, Honey and Salt. Invigorating and sobering, just like life itself.

2. Value the lives of others. Translate that emotion into active happiness for them. A close friend of mine moved far away. His decision was a loss to me, but he's in a new life that makes him happy, productive and more alive. Instead of grieving, I envision his new surroundings and loving personal life. I focus on him, not on a dream that it might (or should) happen for me.

3. Remember the goodness of those who are no longer in your life. Harboring resentment or creating impossible fantasies chews away at the soul and isn't helpful for healing. I wanted my life to be different. For too long I longed for someone who left and hurt me deeply. At some point I chose to remember the times we had that were special and unique. Instead of wanting to understand why it fell apart, I say, "It wasn't a lifetime but it was valid and loving and authentic then."

4. Less isn't More, However... Sometimes Less is Still Enough.
I love to garden. I've had exquisite and labor-intensive gardens. It's the part of summer I do enjoy. I felt my terrace container garden was a poor excuse for a real garden. This year I crammed the boxes and containers until they were overflowing with inexpensive but bountiful flowers. They're visible from inside even when I'm too vulnerable to go outside. I have a better terrace garden this year because I let go of the ghosts of past gardens. What you have now is real.

5. What if what I want another person to offer me something that simply isn't possible for that person to give? Should I exclude that person from my life? Yes, if that person is cruel or toxic, then, do open the door quickly and say good-bye. But if the person is doing what they are capable of in this moment of their own life, try to want what they give you. If they give it freely, accept it willingly and with gratitude.

6. Bonus Trick: How to win the biggest jackpot in Want Something Else.
Go back to the Basics of Life: Find a way to accept, even to love, exactly what you have. Realize that Now is large and compassionate enough to include all things: the past, the present and the future. Now is really the best thing we have.

Want it!

©Alida Brill, 2011

 

Alida Brill is an award-winning writer, social critic, and women's advocate. Her most recent book is Dancing at the River's Edge: A Patient and her Doctor Negotiate Life with Chronic Illness. more...

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