I thought I was done with my education. After all, I made it all the way to a law degree. Then in May of 2001, I got sick and didn't recover. Little did I know I had a lot of learnin' to do!
1. Doctors can't always fix you. I thought if I got sick, all I had to do was go to the doctor, maybe get a blood test, and then I'd be given something to fix me right up. After all, that's what appeared to happen when I initially got sick in May, 2001. I went to a doctor. She gave me antibiotics even though she thought it was a viral infection, so I thought I had all my bases covered—if it was viral, it would go away on its own; if it was bacterial, the antibiotics would knock it down. Was I naïve! Almost eleven years later, and I'm still sick.
2. Dust is underrated. A bit of dust here and there is harmless. Before I got sick, I treated it as public enemy number one (well, it was at least in the top ten!).
3. Fulfillment need not be tied to a job title. When I was forced to trade the classroom for the bedroom, I continued to think of myself as a law professor long after it was clear that this was no longer in the cards for me. It was only when I let go of that label, and the multifaceted identity that went along with it, that I was able to find fulfillment by living day-to-day, doing what's possible and enjoying what I can, without the need to call myself something important sounding.
4. The body is strong...but also fragile. Before I got sick, I would have treated this as a contradictory statement. Not any more. My body is so fragile that a bit of overdoing it can land me in bed for days. But I can also feel its strength: how hard it's working to keep me as well as possible.
5. You can wake up feeling as if you never went to bed even if you slept 9-10 hours straight. Before I got sick, after a long night's sleep, I felt refreshed the next day. Isn't that the function of sleep? Naïve again!
6. No particular food need be assigned to a particular meal. Lunch for breakfast? Fine. Breakfast for dinner? Even better.
7. A bad back can be cured by lying down most of the day. Before I got sick, I was plagued by back trouble. Sometimes I'd have to miss work for a couple of weeks and then have to double schedule my classes to make them up. Now my back is my best feature! This may not be true for everyone with back problems, but chronic illness fixed my bad back.
8. Plaster ceilings are abstract works of art. It's amazing what the eyes can see in white plaster. From years of lying in bed and studying the ceiling, I've seen many a masterpiece (as well a few pornographic works).
9. Freedom from the alarm clock is underrated. I bought the darned thing. Now, once again, I own it. It doesn't own me.
10. As far as the earth is concerned, it doesn't matter if it's a weekday or a weekend, a regular day or a holiday. My heartfelt wish is that you'll enjoy each day as best you can.
© 2012 Toni Bernhard. Thank you for reading my work. I'm the author of three books:
How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide (Fall 2015). The theme of this piece is expanded on in this book.
I'm also the author of the award-winning How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers (2010)
Visit www.tonibernhard.com for more information.
You might also like "The Challenges of Living with Invisible Pain or Illness."