Coping with Chronic Illness
by Diane Linsley
When I was first thinking about what to say in this article, lots
of ideas came to me, including the topic of self-care - eating right,
exercising in appropriate ways that don't make you sicker, and
going to bed on time. Those things are all very obvious and
obviously very important.
But then I had a dream that was so fascinating that I decided to
make it the basis of this article. The dream demonstrates a self-
An Enlightening Dream
At the beginning of the dream, I entered a room with seven rough
and mean-looking men, along with a burly, older woman who
appeared to be in charge. I thought she was their mother because
there was some family resemblance. We were sitting in a circle,
and the woman gave me a speaking assignment. She asked me to think of something in my life that caused me to feel shame and then tell my story to the group.
I felt nervous, and I replied, "Give me a minute to think." There were plenty of things that I felt ashamed about, but not many that I was willing to talk about to a group of intimidating men. Then I got the idea to talk about my chronic illness. I told them the following story:
I've had a variety of health problems for many years. Some of my health problems cause chronic pain. Others cause intermittent fatigue. They stop me from doing some of the things that healthy people do. I live a quiet, low-key life, and I focus on taking care of my health every day.
At this point, one of the men grunted with disgust. I realized that all of the men were more or less disgusted with me. They thought I was pathetic, and they clearly showed their disinterest in my story. But the teacher had given me an assignment, so I plowed ahead:
There are people who don't want to be friends with me because I'm not exciting enough for them. Some people accuse me of not having faith in God (or the Law of Attraction, if that's their thing) because if I really had faith, I would have been healed by now. Other people avoid me because my health problems trigger their fear of death. They don't want me around because it reminds them of their own mortality and their vulnerability as human beings, which they are desperately trying to avoid facing. I have to follow a very strict anti-inflammatory diet. When I go to parties, I bring my own food. Some people are offended by that. But having to deal with this has made me stronger. I've learned to stop worrying about what other people think and just take care of myself. At this point in my story, I was starting to feel less shame and more excitement about my topic. But the audience seemed irritated that I was talking about chronic illness with increasing optimism. A mean-looking man sitting across from me stood up and started putting on his coat, showing a clear intention to leave. The teacher told him to sit back down and listen. I said to him, "You can leave if you want. You have your freedom." He sat down. I guess if I wanted him to leave, he was going to stay. I continued: I once had a near-death experience, and I met the Light at the end of the tunnel. It took two years for me to integrate that experience, and it changed my life. I had to rewrite my whole map of reality to take into account the new information I gained. It changed my beliefs about life, death and spirituality. Best of all, I'm no longer afraid of death. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. At this point, a rough-looking man sitting next to me interrupted. He'd had enough. He protested that I was using too big of words, which made me an intellectual snob. But I had just gotten to the good part, and I was determined to finish. I asked him to please be quiet or leave because I wasn't done yet. Frankly, I was a little surprised at my own assertiveness. After all, these were some mean-looking men! So here's the rest of my story:
I'm not in a hurry to die. I love my kids and my friends, and I want to stay here as long as my soul requires it of me. I'm excited about life, and I want to achieve my life purpose to the best of my ability. When I meet the Light again, I will be happy to show it everything I learned.
I know that the Light loves me unconditionally and does not judge me. I discovered in the tunnel that I am the one who judges myself. I learned that compassion is a greater motivator than criticism. In the tunnel, I was forgiven for everything in my past, as well as everything in my future. That blew me away because I was forgiven for things I hadn't even done yet!
Knowing that I am unconditionally loved, as well as completely forgiven, makes it possible for me to make big changes in my life and move forward at a rapid pace without fearing that I might "do it wrong." It's impossible for me to make a mistake that would prevent the Light from loving me.
Even when I do something that could be called a mistake, all that happens is the future shifts to accomodate it. For example, when I make a decision to end a particular relationship or a career path that I was going down, a new door opens up, and new opportunities appear. The new opportunities are not a punishment, but a blessing. I've discovered that the universe is abundant. There is no way I can fail because there is always another opportunity. Even death is not a failure. It's just a new avenue of growth in another dimension.
At this point, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude for my life. None of these great realizations would have come to me without my health problems. How could I ever be angry, resentful or ashamed of my health problems again? I didn't even feel ashamed in front of this group of mean men.
The first thing I realized was that the men represented my own Inner Critic - the part of me that tries to shame me. The men attempted to silence me in many ways - by avoiding eye contact, by interrupting me, by threatening to walk out on me, and by refusing to acknowledge or support what I was saying (Hey, that sounds like the abusive men in my life. Hmmm.....). Having the teacher there as an authority figure gave me courage, although she felt a little intimidating, too.
So, who was I in the dream? Well, I just felt like Diane. I was also operating in the voice of the Student, which is a primary self that I'm comfortable with. The authoritative Teacher was also a part of me, although slightly disowned, which tells me that I need to work on developing confidence as a group leader so I can be a better coach.
As I said at the beginning of this article, the dream demonstrates a technique for developing self-compassion by retelling your story with a positive spin and an expression of gratitude.
I'm not saying that you have to force yourself to feel grateful for your suffering. Gratitude comes naturally after you clearly see the benefits and learnings that you gained as a result of your painful experiences. I was surprised by how much gratitude I felt. Maybe I could only feel that much gratitude while in the dream state with the conscious ego turned off. Recalling the dream after I awoke made the unconscious feelings of gratitude conscious.
So, now I'm going to embody the voice of the Teacher and ask you to do the same assignment - to retell your story with a positive spin and an expression of gratitude. Yeah, it's a tough one. Your Inner Critic will try to stop you. But I know you can do it :)
The Challenge of Chronic Illness
Finally, if you are struggling with the belief that you are unlovable because of chronic illness, read this article on Love After Life. It made me aware of my own unconscious programming. I had believed since childhood that I was unlovable because of my imperfect body. Since we are always trying to prove our beliefs, I went through life attracting people who couldn't love me. For examples of how this works, see my articles on narcissistic abuse.
Love comes from within. The people who love you do so because they are loving people. Their love says more about them than it does about you. Your love for yourself also comes from within. Childhood trauma messes up our natural inclination to love ourselves and makes us think we have to earn love.
Chronic illness is a challenge that we would all prefer to do without. But like all challenges, it contains within it an opportunity to advance our consciousness. Research shows that people with the highest levels of cognitive development are those who have faced the most difficult challenges. I recommend reading the book Grace and Grit by Ken Wilber, which is the story of Ken's wife Treya and her five-year battle with breast cancer. It's an inspiring story of personal growth. Here's a guided self-compassion meditation with progressive muscle relaxation. I've been told by several people that this meditation was very helpful when they were sick or injured.
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