I had lofty ideas of what I wanted to write about today. I suppose I like to think of myself as someone with a sharp wit and a powerful tongue that can whip up the best verbiage in a moment’s notice! After all, my brain did function a lot better before chronic illness took hold. I still have the talent in there somewhere, but accessing it isn’t always easy…especially on a day I am not feeling well.
I don’t know why I am not as sharp as I would like to be today – it could be the weather, over-exertion, or just a typical flare up of my symptoms. Did I overdo it? I don’t know. The only certainty at this moment is that rest is required. And although I have so much I want to express in writing, that’s not going to happen today.
As I sit here, though, I am aware of a simple feeling that can so easily be expressed this Thanksgiving… I am deeply grateful. I have come so far since this journey started twenty six years ago. Even as I feel uncomfortable and fatigued today, I am filled with gratitude.
The truth is though, I’m not thankful for my struggle. I’m not grateful for the Lyme. I never will be. Illness has robbed me of years of my life, cheated me out of the future I was supposed to have, and destroyed my mind and body in ways I never could have imagined.
“Your illness is a gift.”
“God has a plan for you.”
“Your suffering has a purpose.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
These are just a few of the very real things people have said to me since I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. I think it was their attempt at comforting me in some way, to reassure me that while I may be going through hell, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, or so they think. Chronic illness sufferers know that isn’t always the case.
“Some people have it worse.”
“There are people starving in Africa so you shouldn’t complain.”
I’ve heard these countless times, too. It’s their way of trying to put things in perspective, trying to convince me that things can’t be possibly that bad. But this doesn’t help either. Because what I hear is, “Even though life stinks you should be thankful you don’t have it worse.” Suffering is not a competition and gratitude for my illness is not something I am required to experience, just because things aren’t as bad as they could be.
However, that doesn’t mean I’m not still grateful for certain aspects of my life. And so while I will never be thankful for my chronic illness, I do think it’s important to find gratitude for the things I do have in my life, both in spite of and because of illness.
There are some days where I cannot find anything to be grateful for except for the fact that I’m still alive, and even then, depending on how bad a day is, sometimes I’m not even thankful for that. But I do think it is important on the days that I can and on a day like Thanksgiving, to stop and appreciate all that I do have. Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean I am accepting my reality or that each day isn’t a struggle, because it is. Rather, it is recognizing that even though I have a chronic illness and the fight to overcome it is hard as heck, my struggle could be even more difficult. And I’m thankful that it’s not.
Chronic illness brings life into perspective. As I continue to walk this healing journey, the rough patches help me to simplify the list of that which will make me “happy.” The result? I feel an almost continuous happiness and contentment even in the midst of struggle. My root of gratitude runs deep. This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the journey.