In the chronic illness community, one often hears about the war that our bodies are fighting. Messages of how to remain strong, courageous, and brave as we fight each battle, some worse than others. You may be a "spoonie" or managing with an insignificant "battery", but you are a warrior. Things may be difficult or seem impossible, but if you keep fighting hard enough you can overcome. You just have to be strong and keep persevering. Or at least that's the way it sounds, right? Is that the impression that these comments are meant to give?
The problem is, that while the above sounds positive and optomistic, it can also be perceived as damaging. When symptoms and illness have your health and spirit spiraling, even plummeting, I believe it's only natural to begin doubting your strength and reserves. Are the most challenging moments a result of not trying hard enough, are you too weak, not resilient enough? Are you hindered from improved health because you are too broken to be repaired, not significant enough, or simply just a failure?
I know for a fact that that is NOT the case. We are all destined to move forward in life, all of us. Healthy or not, we will all eventually exhaust our time on Earth at one time or another. For those with chronic illness, some will learn to cope or deal with their illness and it's impact on their life better than others. Some will suffer more either physically, emotionally, or mentally. Some will masks their inner most feelings. Some will pretend or attempt to forget what they are dealing with. Others will try to overachieve with the goal of covering up or hiding the impact that illness has on their lives.
My question is, does our outlook always have to be compared to a win/lose scenario? I know that some of the most beautiful-souls, faithful, caring, and determined people I know have already left our earthly home. It was not because they were weak or didn't try. It was not because they "lost" the war. For whatever reason, it was just their time.
On the same notion, I am aware that some people give all that they can give and times just become too difficult for them to handle. Sadly, some have chosen to take their own lives in hopes of ending the suffering and pain that tormented them day after day. But was it because they were cowards or not strong enough? I don't think so. Instead, I think sometimes, regardless of whether it's accurate or not, people act in the moment out of desperation for a break from their reality, over possible guilt for burdening their loved ones, or loneliness from feeling isolated and withdrawn from society. Being sick all of the time can definitely weigh heavily on one's heart, soul, and perception of life. But, it does not mean that they were selfish or gave up. Is it possible that a different vantage point, an empathetic ear to talk to, a network of supportive loved ones and doctors, or clearer and more reasonable expectations (set by themselves or others) could help some remain hopeful during the most dreadful of days?
The fact is no one knows exactly what someone else is going through. Hell, sometimes the person themselves don't even know. Being told to stay strong when someone is struggling, or to keep fighting while they're trying their absolute hardest, may help some hold on. It may give them a little encouragement. However, it may unintentionally hurt others, making them contemplate their own personal characteristics and how they measure up. (One just has to be mindful of how their comments may be interpreted.)
I'm not gonna lie, my health and thoughts have taken me to some really dark and scary places. I have tried to remain strong, tried to be a faithful warrior, looked at health battles as either wins or losses. I have at times felt shameful, guilty, and weak. At those times, it was hard to look forward to the next day. It was difficult to comprehend how I could keep fighting so hard, with all I had in me. I saw myself as undeserving or inadequate. In some ways I felt like throwing in the towel or giving up, if for nothing else than to protect my family from being impacted or limited by my illness and continued shortcomings. At those moments, I could care less if I was being brave or strong. I felt feeble and powerless. I kept asking myself, what could I do to try harder or be stronger? How could I regain control of my body? What was I not doing well enough? Why was I failing at improving?
Did I have to look at it from that angle, with the idea of constantly winning or losing a battle or war? Is it really an all or nothing situation? Is being brave or courageous in the eyes of others, going to remove fear or uncertainties? Does questioning your future health and worth, mean that you are a coward or quitter? I don't think that has to be the case, at least not in my present state of mind.
The chaos of life is just that - LIFE!
So if not a warrior fighting in a chronic illness war, then what is it? How can we explain this thing called life? How can we describe it or compare it to something similar that is not so cut and dry between two different ends of the spectrum?
What can help ME accept the good and bad that comes with living day in and day out with illness? How can I view my life in a way that is inclusive for all of the wonderful and positive things in life, while also eliminating the severity of negativity during the most challenging times?
In the past I have sometimes compared my health journey to a road trip or roller coaster, with all of the ups, downs, twist and turns. Full of laughter and thrills, but also uncertainties of what is yet to come. I have viewed myself as a crusader, striving for God's purpose, regardless of what trials I'm faced with. (Yes, I realize that crusaders fall into the "war-like" thinking, but not in my context.) I have also compared life to weather, with periods of storms followed by rainbows.
While these metaphors can be useful, I just don't seem to think that they always do justice in describing the experiences I live. Road trips, roller coasters, and the weather all have something in common; They often underestimate the influence that events, other people, and prior experiences have on my life as a whole. They often remove the element of control that I have. A road trip may end at a designated destination, a roller coaster would drop me off in the exact same place that I began, and the weather, well it's just a continuous cycle without a desired outcome.
I want to challenge myself to be able to view all of life's rewards while avoiding seeing the negatives and struggles as losses. Instead, my goal is to look at the tough times as events that help me gain new knowledge, experience, and growth. I want to be able to describe my health journey in way that respects everything and everyone that has already, is currently, and will eventually help me arrive at my ultimate destination - a mother striving for internal and spiritual growth with a meaningful purpose.