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Does having a chronic illness mean one is chronically sick?

Posted Sep 19 2010 4:53pm

What an interesting week this has been…On one hand, I went in to work, and overheard someone say “Wow – it’s amazing she keeps working with how sick she is!” On the other hand, I went to the first weekend workshop of my Yoga Teacher Training course, and heard “Wow – what a warrior you are! You are amazing!” One word – Two very different perspectives regarding the same person. Two very different outlooks. Fascinating.

But it lead me to thinking – if one is chronically ill, does that mean they are sick? I say – No. I have MS – yes. I suffer from Grand Mal seizures – yes. I have a permanent back injury as a result of a seizure which lead to my car accident – yes. But am I sick?  My blood pressure is 107/63. My resting heart rate is 59 beats per minute (yes – 59). I am physically active and my body is adapting beautifully to yoga. Am I sick? I say resoundingly:  No – I am probably as healthy and fit or even healthier and fitter than the nearest “healthy” person.

Do I get sick? Sure – I have MS exacerbations and symptom flare-ups; I get colds & flu sometimes; I get the odd headache, or tummy trouble. Having a chronic illness means that you have to adapt your life to manage your illness – but it does not necessarily mean you are chronically sick.

One’s outlook on life, one’s attitude, will determine how you look at yourself with MS. If one thinks having a chronic illness like MS means being chronically sick – well, that probably will be the truth, because it can lead to the attitude of victimhood. Sometimes, that attitude is easy to change once it is acknowledged. Sometimes,  help is needed to make that attitude change.

Global Yoga Mala

One thing I have always done, instinctively, from a biologically deep level, is seek to turn negatives into positives, especially in terms of attitude. And when you are lucky enough to find a people who have a similar ability and perspective, you are blessed. I feel particularly blessed to have begun my journey into my yoga transformation with a fantastic group of people through the Breathing Space Yoga Teacher Training course – yoga helps me manage the pain and fatigue of my various issues. This year’s class is an eclectic group of people from a wide age range and all walks of life – people each on their own journeys, who are open to learning, welcome differences, and celebrate the challenges and successes we have in our respective lives. I have never met a more open and warm group of people. These people have only known me a couple of days so far, but they do not see just someone with MS. They see a warrior woman on her own journey – someone who can give them each an opportunity to learn what a chronic illness is, what it means to live with such an illness, and how they each can absorb and can apply that knowledge to their own situations/lives. And I am honored that I can be part of each of their journeys, and that they all are part of mine, if only in a very small ways all around.

This weekend, I again found myself on my yoga mat, challenging myself, learning to accept where I was in the moment with my physicality thanks to yoga and the people around me. I found myself in an inner dialogue on my mat, challenging myself to keep going, adjusting my body based on what I was feeling in each moment, physically and emotionally. Actually listening, really listening. Am I feeling fatigue? If so, is it good fatigue – or a more physically harmful fatigue? Am I feeling any pain? If so, is it MS pain? Back injury/alignment pain? Good “work-out” pain that means you are exercising the muscles? I swung from “Oh my gawd, I can’t do this! I have bitten off way more than I can chew this time!” to “Wow! I did it! It’s amazing what my body can do if I listen to what it needs!” I found myself listening to the inspiring stories of the people around me, and I realized again how blessed I am in my life, despite all my challenges. And I heard and saw first hand the successes and challenges of people whose attitudes shone with quiet grace and fierce courage. Courageous Warriors, all.

One thing I found particularly interesting this weekend – something happened during an exercise to determine why we were each there, in that place, to learn about Yoga. My particular thought was “I want to feel secure and grounded so I can feel ready to say goodbye when the time comes”. This surprised me – because I realized that there was a sense of the victim within me: “my seizures are gonna kill me one day, so I had better make peace with that asap.” Wow – AHA moment for me. THAT’s what bubbled to the surface in this time of inner reflection? That I am afraid of dying? Of leaving things undone, having regrets? Whew – time to look at this, and face it with courage. Now that I know it’s there, no more running from it. I am a warrior after all!

Courage is not the absence of fear or despair, but the strength to conquer them. (Chinese proverb)

So,  ask yourself the question: If I have a chronic illness, am I chronically sick?  Am I a warrior? Or am I a victim?

Only you can answer that question for yourself.

Carolyne


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