Like everyone else, my life has had its share of sorrows—some of them deep sorrows. My father’s death when I was ten years old is at the top of the list. Becoming chronically ill in 2001 is near the top. My father’s death was devastating to me; we were extremely close. One of my responses was to look at other kids my age and ask “Why me?” over and over again, in an achingly resentful and painful refrain.
Many decades later, when I got sick and didn’t recover, I could hear that “Why me?” starting up again in my mind. I felt unfairly treated by the world and by my own body. “Why me? Why me?” I’d repeatedly ask. This served only to make my life harder than it had already become.
Then one day I was listening to Terry Gross’ Fresh Air on NPR. Here's how I describe it in the last chapter of my book, How to Be Sick:
She was interviewing country music singer and songwriter Rosanne Cash. Cash had been forced to put her career on hold for several years because she had to have brain surgery for a rare but benign condition. Terry Gross asked her if she ever found herself asking “Why me?”
Cash replied “No,” that, in fact, she found herself saying “Why not me?” since she had health insurance, no 9-to-5 job that she might lose during her long recuperation, and a spouse who was a wonderful caregiver.
Of course, not everyone is fortunate in the ways that Rosanne Cash cited. For many people, stress over money and lack of support are ongoing challenges. But, still, no one gets a pass on life’s difficulties, including Ms. Cash: Imagine the stress and the fear she must have experienced before and after her brain surgery.
Rosanne Cash’s “Why not me?” changed the way I view what happens to me in life. Her comment made me realize that in every household on the planet, in every generation, in every era throughout history, people’s lives have been a mixture of joys and sorrows, successes and disappointments.
This realization opened the door for self-compassion to replace resentment, because it enabled me to open my heart to my struggle with gentle, soothing care, instead of turning away with an aversive "Why Me?"
© 2013 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.
Visit www.tonibernhard.com for more information.
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