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How Being Sick Taught Me to Stop Living Like I'm Dying

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I’m not sure I would have ever known how much things like being able to get out of bed, walk, shower without getting tired, or drink as much water as I want matter if I hadn’t spent time not being able to do those things. I’m not sure that I would feel as deeply as I do. I am grateful for those lessons.

It’s been a year since my diagnosis. Last year, after finding out I grappled with the news. I gave myself a timeline until my birthday to decide what to do. I drove to the beach on my birthday with two options. I thought about the journey ahead and wrote a letter to myself of all the things I needed to make peace with. I set it on fire and fed the ashes to the ocean. I wrote a letter to the universe with all the things I desired in my life. I counted down until the clock struck midnight and skipped through the ocean feeding rose petals and dancing to Stevie Nicks. You might remember the videos. This is the part of my story now that will always be called: Choosing to Live.

Little did I know when I made the choice to live the universe heard me in a big way. A few short days late later I was given an opportunity that led me to a kismet moment when people heard my story, helped me out of the trenches,  and gave me back my life. I owe my life to them. I owe my life to so many people. I am grateful for all the people who have loved me a little, a lot, for a long time, or for a season. Each person who has loved me has given me strength to refuel when I was out of my own. That love is a resource I was able to draw on over and over and keep choosing life because of it.

A year later, and I find myself incredibly grateful that Sick gave me a reason to evaluate my life and take a risk on living it. Getting my diagnosis last year was a defining moment for me. While I’ve always been sick, this was the first time I actually believed for a moment the sick I had might take me out. What the physical sickness that presented last year did was give me permission to look at what and who I loved and invested energy in as well as who and what invested in me, and decipher which of those were equal exchanges. Instead of trying to live like I was dying, I started trying to stop dying so I could live. I suspect I will in some way or another be facing that for the rest of my life.

However, one thing this year of practicing survival has embedded into me is that Sick doesn’t have to be part of my label anymore. It isn’t something I could get rid of by “breaking up with it” as I tried to do at first. It wasn’t, it isn’t that simple. Sick is not a part of my self description, but it is a part of my journey and one of the great teachers in my life when I allow myself to coexist in harmony with it. Sick in some ways has become a driving force for me. She is always looming, but I am no longer afraid of her.

The thing about Sick is that when she was just chronic and painful, I bowed to her. She was my master. When she became terminal though, it ignited the place inside of me that has become incredibly skilled at navigating the line between dying and staying alive.

Having an imminent threat gave me permission to look at my life and minimize what existed to something manageable so that the time I have left to spend, be it a day or a decade, is spent in quality. Sick allowed me to do something people dream about: Sick allowed me to walk out of my life with one suitcase in hand and take a shot at living my best life. A year later and I know without a doubt that in a weird way, I owe the diagnosis and my life with Sick my life too.

Sick has taught me to look at perspectives rather than simply circumstance. Maybe it was a three-hour drive to treatment this week, but that’s better than four hours a day four times a week on a machine. I know because I’ve done both.

Because of Sick I can see the comparison and my perspective has changed. I drove to treatment through the green mountains with music I love with my dog at my side. I stopped at a roadside stand for lemonade and at a tiny little town fair for lunch.
My perspective is that without Sick, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to break away from the normal grind, take a step back from the bustle of the world, and be one with nature. I wouldn’t have done anything I’ve done the last year, and this last year has been the best year of my life. It’s been the most difficult year of my life, the most challenging, and certainly the most emotional, but it’s been the most poignant one.

Because of that one diagnosis, I was given a jolt that gave me a reason to turn inward and examine what not just sick or well mean, but what quality of life means. What I learned was that quality means facing my inner critic and slaying my demons one by one. It’s hard, but necessary for the kind of peace my soul wants. It also means setting boundaries and believing I am enough, and that I am allowed to prioritize my health- mental or physical. Moreover, it is necessary for me to do that or I am of no use to anyone else. Sick gave me the understanding that sometimes I have to choose me, because if I don’t, there is always a Sick waiting to take over.

I think it is this way for everyone. We all have sickness. Some is physical, some is mental, some is simply a lack of luster for the lives we lead. It’s easy to become complacent and put things on the “tomorrow” or “someday” list and I too had done that, until there was the recognition that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed and this would likely be my last shot at getting it right. A gal can only die and come back so many times.

I sit here a year after that diagnosis on a ledge again, but a literal ledge on a literal mountain this time. The profoundness of this is not lost on me.

Everything I thought I knew has been burnt to the core the last year, and I am rebuilding the epic life I always wanted.

I’m grateful for that diagnosis and the permission it gave me to stop taking life for granted and start living with purpose and have gratitude for the lessons that came from all of it — bad, good, and in between.

What Sick taught me is that every mistake, every failure has given me opportunities to learn lessons, sharpen my tools, and strengthen the areas of weakness that lead to the fall. I’ve learned that every climb back up is different than the last, but if I take those lessons with me the view is better each time, too. I’ve learned to stop living like I’m dying, and to stop worrying about running out of time. Sick taught me to ground myself in the present, and let go of the line. There is no more walking back and forth between living and dying. There is only now, and simply, gratefully, joyfully — being presently alive.

Originally published: July 20, 2019
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