Last night I had a conversation with someone who knew nothing of my chronic illness. This is someone I only run into occasionally, who has only seen me when I'm doing well. Which makes sense because when I'm not well I generally don't leave my house.
I don't remember what brought us to the topic of my health, but there we were. I was explaining to her that I've fought debilitating fatigue for twelve years and a chronic headache for nearly eight. With no answers as to why. And I watched her face change. There was concern and sadness. And she expressed as much. As she said what kind of specialists have you seen and doesn't anyone have any answers and oh, how hard that must be, I realized I don't see it that way.
And I told her of the blessings I've received because of my chronic illness. (Some of which I've written about here.)
As a society, we tend to celebrate busyness. Go, go, go. That's how to be a good person. Do, do, do. There's never enough time in the day. We have too much to do. Why can't we do and have it all? Chronic illness has taught me that this is foolish.
Doing just to be busy is worthless. Even damaging. When we do and have more and more, it is usually worth less and less. There is such value in choosing how we live our lives, every moment of our lives, instead of getting caught in the rushing flow of life as it happens around us. And sometimes choosing to do nothing. Choosing to be still and quiet. Choosing to do only one thing at a time instead of always multitasking. Teaching our minds to be at peace.
There are people who can learn this without chronic illness. I am not one of them. If I felt better, even now after all I've learned, I would be running around like a chicken with my head cut off -- just like I used to. Bragging (without realizing it) in a martyr-like way about how busy I was. Holding my exhaustion up as a badge of honor for the war of busy I fought. Busy because I couldn't bring myself to give anything up. Because I didn't have the willpower to choose what was important and get rid of what wasn't. Because I didn't understand that empty spaces in my schedule were worth choosing.
I needed chronic illness. I needed the smack in the head that said, "Sit down and be quiet!" I needed to be forced to pay attention to other things. I needed to question the desires of my heart and decide what was important enough to me to spend the tiny bit of energy I have on it. And it can be summed up in one word. People.
The things I was doing before were good things. But most of them were not of eternal significance. People are of eternal significance.
I'm still working toward the ideal for me. For now, I have structured my life in such a way that I am able to take the time to be with people when I need to. I'm blessed that my husband makes enough money that I don't have to work (which I couldn't do anyway because of my health). I'm blessed that the days of small children needing all my time are behind me. As I create my new life, which is constantly in flux, the one thing that must remain true is my ability to be with people. I need this. To set other things aside and just visit.
Maybe it's an hour chatting on my porch. Maybe it's a trip out for ice cream. Maybe it's lunch. Whatever it is, it will involve intimate conversation about things that matter. Things no one else has the time to listen to. I have the time. I protect the time so that I can offer it to others.
I still have to take care of myself. I have to remember that I am important, too. I have to remember that if I don't take care of myself I will have nothing left to offer others.
It is the desire of my heart to connect with people. To lift and strengthen them. And in so doing I am lifted. I am strengthened. Instead of draining my tiny bit of energy, it increases. It feeds my soul.
My illnesses and life struggles have taught me empathy and an understanding of a great many things. Between physical health problems and mental health issues, and the diagnosis and treatment of both, I've waded through many dark waters. Certainly not all of them, but many of them. Sometimes I am miserable and hurting. But I would not trade it for the world. Because it has blessed me with an understanding heart.
If I could go back in time and do something different that prevented me from getting ill, I wouldn't. I am so grateful for what I've learned and how I've grown. I am so blessed to be able to offer what I can. And none of this would have been possible without my chronic illness.
I watched her face change again as I told her these things. I watched it soften. I watched her smile.
If I don't learn from these experiences and bless the lives of others through what I've learned, then it was just a lot of ugliness and unhappiness and pain. But if I use it to reach out, it meant something. It has value. It has eternal significance.