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When Chronic Illness Makes You Miss Being Busy

Busy.

When I think of the “busy” that I miss in my life, it’s not necessarily a packed schedule running from one thing to the next.

It’s the feeling after busy. Of getting home and plopping onto the couch because I’m tired from activity and interaction, not because of a full day of physical pain. Of sinking into rest as I let out a deep exhale and lay my head on my pillow after a long day. Of waking up and knowing that I have a whole to-do list of things to accomplish and that the only barrier between me and getting it all done is either my motivation or the hours available in a day.

In life with chronic illness, stamina and pain have replaced time as my main barrier to getting things done. My days demand a slow pace, near-constant pain management, pushing through fatigue, activity pacing, and listening to limitations my body sets forth with love.

I miss the afternoon energy dip that comes from having a full morning of interacting, working, brainstorming, and engaging with the outside world. I miss transitioning from the day’s responsibilities when evening rolls around to dinner with my family or drinks with friends.

On many days, it’s easy to look with envy and longing at the pace of so many of my friends. Their “mundane” busy (even inside of quarantine) has become something that I see as a privilege. When another Monday morning rolls around and my husband drags his feet to get up with his alarm and to the hospital on time, a part of me feels a pang of jealousy and sadness.

Losing my ability to reliably commit to a school or work schedule has made me appreciate what a gift it is to be able to depend on your body in that way.

My days look very different than most of my peers. My “busy” looks different. I am still busy; but that busy entails creating space for healing, taking care of my body and bargaining with my energy.

I never anticipated spending so many hours strategically filling the times when I am in pain. It’s a strange feeling to be stuck at home and intensely limited in your activity. Many days I’m limited in my ability to go on a walk outside, drive, look at screens, read or even talk on the phone.

It can be demoralizing to stare down the barrel of a day knowing that it will be “busy” with pain management, acceptance, release and surrender.

Letting go of my old definition of “busy” has acquainted me with stillness and quiet. It’s presented me with an opportunity for deep personal development and growth. It has forced me to stare directly at my value outside of my to-do list or accomplishments and learn how to love myself exactly as I am, even when it doesn’t reflect what I had imagined for myself.

It’s taught me how to adopt a mindset that focuses on the importance of who I am being, more than what I am doing.

There is so much I have learned from slowing down as a result of my health challenges. I am forever changed as a person and human from these experiences, and I know that they’ve shaped me into a more patient, compassionate, mindful, accepting and graceful version of myself than anything else could have.

However, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t many days where I wish I could pick up the pace. It doesn’t erase the envy and pang of ache I feel watching the world “go back to normal” post-COVID, while I do not. There are moments I desperately wish I could speed up my to-do list, and, once again, experience the bustle that I used to see as a chore and now view as a privilege.

But for today, I will breathe patience into my now moment.

I will find peace here. I will learn here. I will love here.

And I know when the day comes that “busy” re-enters my life, I will appreciate it and integrate it into my world with consciousness and gratitude I never would have had otherwise.

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