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The Cheshire Cat Approach to Chronic Illness

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Sometimes the path ahead in life can seem a little unclear.

Sometimes we are faced with a range of life choices, almost too many, which often complicate matters and require a great deal of thought… too much thought!

Sometimes we have limited choices, none of which are particularly helpful, so instead of moving forward we feel suck.

Add in chronic illness and the restrictions often surrounding our diseases, and complications are taken to a whole new level when we are faced with which path to take.

So how do we deal with forks in the road, a change of direction, a smorgasbord of opportunities?

The Cheshire Cat Approach

In Lewis Carroll’s famous novel, “Alice in Wonderland,” there is a lovely scene in the story where Alice meets the Cheshire Cat as she comes to a fork in the road.

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire : That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.

Lewis Carroll, “Alice in Wonderland

Maybe this is a good starting point. Asking ourselves if we actually care about which direction to take. Alice’s response to the Cheshire Cat, when asked the question of where she wanted to go, was she didn’t really care. She just wanted to get somewhere.

I think this is the morale of the story. We all want to get somewhere. None of us, if we are honest, want to remain stagnant in life. We want to grow, learn, achieve, have purpose, move forward.

When living with chronic illness, we need to move forward, despite often feeling incapable of doing so. Ultimately, if we take a moment to think about it, we all want to believe we are doing something to give us a sense of purpose. In particular we want our chronic situation to be as easy to live with as possible.

Even if you know you have a progressive, non-treatable disease, there are still cross roads in the journey. Decisions for the future need to be made and often there are multiple choices.

Let Me Give You an Example

My rare disease is here to stay and will get worse. We know it, we accept it. Does it mean life just stands still while we wait for the disease to do its best? Of course not. I’m alive and I need to live while there is still life in this body.

There may still be options available to help me manage my disease better. If I stop moving forward, I might miss them.

So the question is “where do I want to get to?” Alice told the Cheshire Cat, she didn’t care, she just wanted to get somewhere.

I get that.

I want to ensure I’m moving forward, leaving no stone unturned and being as prepared as possible for the future, whatever it looks like. So my answer, to the question Alice answered, is similar but also slightly different. It’s different because I do care. I care about my future and my husband’s future. My fork in the road relates to my disease. The disease is intrinsically a part of me, so I can’t help but care about which way I go, which path I take.

My answer is also similar to Alice’s, because I want to get somewhere. I don’t want to just roll over, give up, give in or act as if life is completely over for me. I want to keep moving forward.

So I have a number of options I’m juggling.

  • Do I change my medical team?
  • Do I just add in a couple of new specialists for second or third opinions?
  • Do I decide to go ahead with surgery, despite the dire warnings from my medical team of possible severe complications or death?
  • Do I change my medication regime and, on medical advise, reduce some so we can see if my body throws us any new clues, without meds masking symptoms?
  • Do I ramp up my exercise regime in the hope of building some form of core strength… is it even possible to improve my mobility?
  • Do I continue having countless blood tests and scans or am I wasting my time?
  • Do I cut back on volunteer commitments so I can conserve what little energy I have to spend some time doing relaxing, non health related, type activities?

So as you can see from my list of possible future options, sometimes crossroads present multiple choices and the more you think about them, the more you feel like you are on a massive roundabout, rather than a simple fork in the road!

So What Do You Do When You Don’t Know What to Do?

It’s actually pretty simple… do something!

Doing something is better than doing nothing. If we do nothing we will never move forward, never grow and never know if something good is up ahead. Often with chronic illness it really is a case of not having anything to lose. If you have multiple options presenting at your crossroad, I know it can be overwhelming.

Prioritizing is the key.

Look at your list and start numbering them from most important to least important. Once you’ve done this, you’re all set. You simply start with number one on your list and move forward with this option. If option one progresses well and you’re feeling brave, you can start moving forward with option two. It might be option two is where you stop with your multiple choices, as you find you are on a path moving you forward, providing you with new goals and purpose.

From my list of multiple choices, I have whittled it down to a “top three” list of “moving forward” options.

  1. Add in a couple of new specialists for second or third opinions?
  2. Change my medication regime and, on medical advise, reduce some so we can see if my body throws us any new clues, without meds masking symptoms?
  3. Cut back on volunteer commitments so I can conserve what little energy I have, to spend some time doing relaxing, non health related, type activities?

“Stand at the crossroads and look. Ask where the old road is. Ask where the good road is, and walk on that road. If you do, you will find rest for yourselves ” (Jeremiah 6v16 ERV)

Now It’s Your Turn

Are you at a crossroads? Are you looking at a fork in the road, or perhaps feel like you are going in circles on a roundabout of multiple life choices?

Well, now it’s your turn to simply write down all those options taunting you, so you can move forward and not stay stagnant.

You don’t need to know where everything is going before you get there, you just have to go somewhere. You just have to keep moving.

We all have different physical and mental capabilities and our lists, our forks in the road, will be so very different. They need to be. They are unique to you, special to you.

You are special and you deserve to have options to move forward. Don’t be afraid. Take your time to list your options, prioritize them and go from there.

I’ll be thinking of you and cheering you on.

Getty image via Ann_Mei

Originally published: February 5, 2021
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