Public Domain
"Waiting by the Window" by Carl Holsøe (1863-1935) 
Source: Public Domain

I’ve lived with chronic pain and illness for more than 15 years. This is the first of two pieces on the subject of what I would and what I would not change should I regain my health.

Surprisingly, the list of what I wouldn’t change is longer than the list of what I would.

1. I’d continue to care for my body and respect its needs and limitations.

Before I became chronically ill, I pretty much ignored my body’s needs and limitations, even if I was taxing it to its limits. I was especially negligent when I had an acute illness, such as a cold. I would power through, which always made me feel worse. Since becoming chronically ill, taking care of my body has become a top priority. That would continue even if I woke up tomorrow with my health restored.

2. I’d remember the importance of adequate rest and sleep.

As noted above, before I got sick, I didn’t take good care of my body. That included ignoring its need to rest at times and to get a good night’s sleep. I now realize that the mind needs rest and sleep as much as the body does. Both require time to refresh and restore themselves. Were I to regain my health, I’d do everything I could to preserve my ability to get adequate rest and sleep.

3. I’d continue to appreciate the kindness of family and friends who supported me during my years of illness.

Some people have gone missing from my life altogether. Thankfully, I’ve learned to accept this and even wish them well. That said, I’d never forget the kindness and care of those who’ve been helping me all these years. I’d want them to know that if they needed my help, I’d be there in the blink of an eye.

4. I’d never lose sight of the relief of not needing everyone to like me.

Before I became chronically ill, I wanted everyone to like me. One negative or even lukewarm teaching evaluation could make me forget all the positive ones. Now, my attitude is “take me or leave me.” It took me years to come to this, but I did so because I’m too sick and/or in pain to spend my precious energy worrying about what people think of me. If someone doesn’t like something I write, that’s okay. I still wish them well. If someone falls out of touch with me because I won’t try a treatment they’re pushing, that’s okay. I truly hope they’re thriving. It’s such a relief not to need everyone to think I’m awesome!

5. I’d continue to avoid crowds and loud places.

Given the current state of my health, finding myself in a crowded, noisy space exacerbates my symptoms. At first, I missed the hustle and bustle of places like shopping malls, but now I prefer silence or at least relative quiet. Often, I’ll crochet without the TV, radio, an audiobook, or even music playing. I like quiet, and so I’d make a concerted effort to seek it out if I got well.

6. I’d maintain a healthy skepticism about doctors.

I used to be in awe of doctors. Now, although I appreciate their special skills, the fact is that I often know more about my various health issues than they do. As a result, I’ve learned to be skeptical about some of their statements and recommendations, and I don’t depend on them for all the answers. This relationship to the medical profession would remain a permanent fixture in my life.

7. I’d never abandon my pillow arrangement.

Chronically ill or not, I’ll never give up my complex pillow arrangement. Pillows of all shapes and sizes, in different positions depending on the task at hand, support every part of my body (as they are right now as I’m typing away on my bed). My discovery of pillows has been one of the best things to come out of being sick!

8. I’d continue to be grateful for the internet.

As someone who is mostly housebound, I depend on the internet to connect with others, especially those who are facing health problems. It makes me feel understood and less alone.

In addition, the internet has become a rich overall resource for me. I’ve learned about the arts and about nature. I have Google News bookmarked so, as a good citizen, I can keep up with what’s going on in the world. I like getting my news from the internet because I can scan the headlines; I don’t have to click on every link and get more detail than I want or need. Most importantly, the news comes to me in silence without being yelled at me by TV commentators.

9. I’d resolve to retain the ability to accept, without bitterness, what I can and cannot do in my life.

Even healthy people are limited in what they can do, whether it’s due to financial constraints, responsibilities to family, or work obligations. It took me a long time to accept with grace that chronic illness has severely affected what I can and cannot do. When I finally did accept it, that surrender to my limitations felt so good that I think of it as sweet surrender.

Should my health be restored, I wouldn’t expect to be able to do everything I wanted to do, and I’d work on accepting those limitations without bitterness and with gratitude for what I can do.

***

Here's the the follow-up piece: "What I Would Change Were My Health Restored Tomorrow."

© 2016 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 (2015)

How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow (2013)

How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers (2010) 

All of my books are available in audio format from Amazon, audible.com, and iTunes.

Visit www.tonibernhard.com for more information.

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You might also like “How NOT to Treat Yourself When Chronic Illness Strikes.”

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