7 Things I’ve Come to Appreciate Due to Chronic Illness
My life has been enriched in unexpected ways due to chronic pain and illness.
Posted Apr 29, 2019
Don’t get me wrong. Although I’ve been chronically ill for 18 years now, I still hope to wake up tomorrow morning with my health restored. That said, these past 18 years have slowly softened the hard edges of living day-to-day with pain and Illness. And so I thought I’d compile a list of what I’ve come to appreciate despite my limitations.
#1: The human body
This might seem like an odd choice to head my list since it’s my body that is sick and in pain but, truth be told before I became chronically ill, I paid little attention to my body. Now it’s in my awareness almost all the time, and I find myself in awe of how it works. I even included a chapter titled “Appreciating the Wondrousness of the Human Body” in my book How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness. In it, I take readers on a journey through several of our “operating systems” (if I may call them that), including the circulatory system and the respiratory system.
For example, the circulatory system can be thought of as a network of highways inside the body that enables blood to reach each of our billions of cells. Blood brings nutrients, water, and oxygen to those cells; then it takes away waste, such as carbon monoxide. Like a car on a highway, blood needs a source of power to circulate it around our bodies. That source is, of course, the heart. It keeps our blood flowing through 60,000 miles of blood vessels. This is why I’m in awe of the way the body works!
It is true that some of my bodily systems aren’t functioning at optimum levels: some days, my pain levels are high; other days, flu-like symptoms take center stage. But this is not my body’s fault. It’s working as hard as it can to support me. In turn, it has my deepest appreciation.
#2: The men and women who keep everything around us running smoothly
Before I became mostly housebound by chronic illness, I hardly noticed the everyday workers who perform vital tasks such as delivering mail, collecting yard refuse and garbage, cleaning the streets, climbing power poles and telephone poles to make repairs, no matter how hot or cold it is outside. Now I see these workers from my windows, whether it’s below freezing or over 100 degrees (F)—both of which we experience in California’s Central Valley.
I’ve also come to appreciate workers who come into the house when something needs repair. Before I got sick, they were in the way. Now, I’m fascinated by their skills. In addition, it’s a big event to have someone else in the house besides my husband! Without intruding, I sometimes watch them work and marvel at how skilled most of them are at diagnosing and fixing whatever needs repair.
#3: The flexibility to control my schedule
I know this may not apply to those of you who are still in the workforce. If you’re like me, however, you don’t have a regular work schedule. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate that, for the most part, I can control my daily schedule. If I’m not feeling well enough to write one day, I can put it off to the next day…or sometimes to the next week. If I have a commitment one day, I try to make sure that I’m commitment-free the next day so I have time to recover from the day before.
Before becoming chronically ill, I always felt I’d “lost control of the week” as it’s often expressed. That can still happen when unexpected things come up, such a heating system that stops working on a day I’ve set aside to be commitment-free. But on the whole, I do control my calendar and I greatly appreciate the flexibility that this gives me.
#4: The company of non-humans
Here, I’m thinking of my dog and my bonsai—yes my bonsai! It might sound odd, but they help me because they don’t know I’m sick. I particularly love how my dog, Scout, doesn’t treat me as if I’m sick. As a result, sometimes when I’m with her—or when I’m tending to my bonsai—I actually forget that I’m chronically ill. Both of these nonhuman companions give me relief from a life that focuses so heavily on my illness and pain. They enrich my life immensely.
#5: A slow walk
According to everything I read, I should be taking fast walks, but I can’t. I must stroll—and I can only do it for 10-15 minutes. This limitation used to be a source of stress for me because I blamed chronic illness for keeping me from exercising the way I was always being told I should be. But I finally gave in to the slow walk and, because of that, I’ve discovered the pleasures of the stroll and I don’t mind that I don’t get very far!
I’ve become acquainted with all the trees and bushes nearby because I have the time to examine them as I slowly walk by. I know how they look in summer, in fall, in winter, and in spring (I particularly love the delicate transparency of new spring leaves). And I know the insects that like to visit them. Whether chronically ill or not, I hope you’ll learn to appreciate the pleasures of a stroll.
#6: My friends—in person and online
I see friends in person so seldom that I notice more about them. I love seeing their faces and I enjoy looking at they’re wearing and what they’ve done to their hair. More importantly, though, I’m attuned to their moods and their problems in a way I never was before. I think I’ve become a better friend.
I’ve also made some online friends since becoming ill. We email or text each other a couple of times a week. It’s true that sharing life is more of a challenge—some stories are too complex or hard to convey in writing or without the back and forth of in-person conversation. That said, I’ve found that there’s a special intimacy that results from communicating with people when I’m not face-to-face with them, something I’d never have thought was the case. I seem to be more likely to share my troubles and worries via email or text because I know I’m not “forcing” them to react in front of me. In other words, they don’t have to worry about replying with just the right words to make me feel better. They can write back when they’re ready. I hope it’s the same for them as it is for me.
#7: My ability to feel compassion for others
Until I became chronically ill, I wasn’t attuned to how hard life can be for everyone at times. There’s a lot of suffering in the world. After an initial period of almost exclusive focus on my illness and my limitations, I started to notice how many people struggle in life, whether with illness or something else. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t joy too. It’s just that, before I got sick, I’d never felt as strong a need to help others as I do now. I appreciate that chronic illness has changed me in this way.
Thank you for reading my piece. You might also enjoy this lighthearted piece: “Top 10 Reasons I Don’t Mind Being Housebound”