Reframing Illness: From Dwelling on Losses to Celebrating Gains
I am transported back to a Winnie the Pooh episode where he is lost in the forest. He begins his journey confident, following a set route marked with sunshine and forward vision. Suddenly, the loss of an item in the wind steers him to stray from the path where the mood, scenery, hope and future steps shift to unknowing darkness. Panic grips him as he no longer has access to his original calm, happy route and is unable to locate a different or alternate option to remove himself from the darkness. Each new turn brings darker corners, horrible visions and mounting fear.
Until October 2015, I, like Pooh Bear, was fortunate to find myself following the first path full of light, hope, dreams, plans, happiness and security. Just as suddenly as his item is taken by the wind, so too was my health and control in all areas of my life including living location, work and relationships in addition to my health. I, unlike Pooh Bear, was chasing pieces of myself which Lyme disease stole. I found myself ill equipped for the dark, panic inducing new path which this disease thrust me onto. With each turn searching for answers and a way out I found darker depths, horrible visions which became my reality and mounting panic of being stuck in this despair forever.
Unfortunately, I have experienced a great deal of loss through this process. I have lost my life plan, relationships, self-esteem, confidence, patience, trust, happiness and abilities I always took for granted in mental, physical and emotional functioning. All of these, plus many more instances, led to a loss of my sense of self, but also a loss of my happiness. Waking up every morning feeling heavy, as everything about my circumstances comes rushing back is not a way to live.
A constant dark cloud was my companion, as I felt I was sinking and drowning in despair and the world kept beating me further into the ground. Walking around feeling as though your soul has been sucked out and there is a rotting hole in your chest with the prickling of tears in your eyes at all times is draining and damning. Losing my personality, natural aura, optimism and happiness have been devastating. Depression, as a symptom of Lyme, is to blame, but for months I again tried to “snap myself out of it” and berated myself for my inability to win out over these feelings.
Being a fixer by nature, I did not accept these losses and desperately fought them, draining myself of energy, beating myself up for not being in control of myself and not giving myself or my body the grace and acceptance I needed to realize this was not me, but was a manifestation of the bacteria and disease and would only be temporary.
Through all of these losses, however, my eyes have been opened to a multitude of gains, which far outweigh the losses experienced. I have been granted a new perspective of the world as I learned that if my life was going to be flipped upside down, I would invent a way to see right side up until I could flip back over.
Through each aspect of this illness and the changes in my personal life, it is so easy to get caught in a perpetually negative state of mind. Thoughts of ,“Why me?” and wallowing can spring up at any moment. Despite the pain endured and losses suffered, I have been blessed with an equal if not greater quantity of gains, which sometimes go overlooked. Daily, I am trying to live with a positive outlook of thankfulness for the bounty of good I do have.
My biggest blessing has been my family. My parents are two of the most loving, selfless, caring, amazing people in the world. They picked me up when I was at my lowest, have fought each step of this journey with me, have never stopped searching for answers and have been a continual source of positivity on the darkest days. I have gained a stronger relationship with not only my mom, dad and sister, but also with my extended relatives, who have outpoured love, support, kind words and prayers. I have gained parts of myself back from their tireless helping efforts and uplifting reminders. I am blessed to have such a safe, unconditionally loving, welcoming family.
I have gained an understanding of the type of people I want to surround myself with, open my heart to, as well as who is a true friend. This was a tough lesson to learn, as well as a painful one, when the person who meant the most to me walked away, as well as others in my life from lack of understanding, or the choice to not support me through the trials and tribulations of this illness.
Out of this pain I have gained stronger relationships with the friends who surprised me, rose to the challenge and loved and accepted me even more than they did before I got sick. I have gained memories and experiences as these amazing friends have kept my social calendar full, built my self-esteem back up and loved me unconditionally while constantly providing support in whatever way I need.
I have gained insight into the medical world, learning valuable health information, and a solid understanding of my body and mind. I am self-admittedly still in the process of learning to not put so much pressure on myself, ease up on my perfectionist ways and hold myself to a standard that is actually achievable, remembering John Steinbeck’s words, “Now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” I have gained the ability to listen to my body and am doing a better job of accepting when I am tired and actually listening instead of continuing to push myself.
I have gained the ability to open up and share with others when I am struggling rather than holding it all in. It is still uncomfortable and not my nature, but little by little, I am learning. I have learned that it is OK to ask for help when you need it. I have gained the understanding that it is important to be receptive to constructive criticism and feedback, reflecting and making changes if needed. I have learned how imperative it is to be there for someone when they are not able to be there for themselves. I have learned the importance of patience and loving oneself. I have learned that too much control in life is limiting, rather than helpful. I have learned to question doctors, to ask until I am comfortable with information, to research, and to be my biggest advocate. I have gained insight into what truly makes me happiest.
Most importantly, I have gained the ability to not let the little things in life bother me. When you go through something so monumental and have seen the deepest, darkest days, everything else is put in perspective. Days or circumstances that I used to complain about I now celebrate. I don’t “sweat the small stuff anymore” as they say, and I notice the beauty and blessings in the most minute aspects of my day.
Moving forward I know how positive my life is going to be, and I am thrilled to know that I will have a matching positive mindset. I have a student who when asked, “How are you?” responds every single time with, “Great! It’s the best day ever!” I want to adopt this zest for life with the realization that it is the best day ever because I am functioning, I am getting answers, I am getting better and the best is yet to come.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.
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