Begin Living ...

Is it easy to imagine a time when you worked most hours of your day, pushing through pain and discomfort because it was what you were "supposed to do"? Likely this occurred before receiving a chronic illness diagnosis. It may have been so easy to think, "my body just hurts because I am tired" or "you're just sleepy" or "don't be lazy." It is almost as if we are programmed to believe that life means doing, doing, doing, and more doing. Many people "live" or rather non-live in this way. Even many people who have a chronic physical illness, prior to receiving a diagnosis, ignored their symptoms in an effort to keep on doing, and some folks keep this up even after receiving a diagnosis. Most of the time people keep themselves excessively busy to avoid acknowledging that that every day lived is another day closer to death. However, when living with chronic physical illness, there comes a point when the body says STOP DOING and BEGIN LIVING!

For some people, receiving their diagnosis is the catalyst for really thinking about death and how things are not forever. Of course there are people who have seriously thought about death before depending on life circumstances or the age which one was when diagnosed. Nevertheless, many people who are diagnosed with a chronic physical illness are in the prime of their lives, or are children, or simply were always too busy doing to ever really think about the precious,time-limited, and fragile nature of life. This can be quite daunting and can paralyze some, thrusting them into an experience of depression, dominated by thoughts such as, "everything is meaningless since we all die anyway" or "I am not going to be cured so what's the point of doing anything." This state and these thoughts are not really that different from the position of DOING DOING DOING. In both experiences of constant doing and perpetual depression people are likely avoiding LIVING. Feelings, experiences, sensations...LIFE is ignored.

Sometimes after struggling with the news of a chronic illness diagnosis, another state may emerge--A LIVING STATE! People may start to think, "life is so precious and I really value it" or "I have such little time, what do I really want to do with this time." People accept that death is inevitable but rather than become defeated by this reality, begin living. Maybe that means coming to a realization that you do not want to be working 60 hours a week but rather only 35 hours a week so as to use the rest of the time to rest, spend it with family, or simply go for quiet walks. Others may begin to perceive the beauties of our world in a way that they had been blind to before. For example, do you ever notice how many different birds fly around you in a given moment or the different materials the people around you are wearing, or really taste all the different flavors of the food you eat, or intimately get to know other people's feelings? These examples are just a speck of what living is.

Living does not mean blindly doing to fill your time to the point that life passes you by and you do not even know how it came and went so fast. Living does not mean sitting at home feeling sorry for yourself and passively waiting for something external to take away your pain. Living is acknowledging your own individual limitations on what you can do, choosing very carefully what is most meaningful to you within your personal limitations, and actively engaging in your everyday moments and tasks by really perceiving what it feels like every step of the way. Even if you are confined to your home because of your illness, you can still engage in life. You can work from home via computer or phone, you can have visitors come to you, you can surround yourself with decorations, flowers, music or anything else that is pleasing to your senses, you can get to intimately know your feelings and the feelings of others...you can live.

One of the most dangerous myths, extremely powerful in this century is that excessive stimulation is living...excessive working, partying, sex, drinking, smoking, thrill-seeking. These are just distractions that numb you from really feeling life. Excessively stimulation is really non-living--an avoidance of the reality that with life comes death. Engage in what is meaningful to you in moderation so you can actually feel what it is that you are partaking in. Really think about why you want to do something and whether or not you truly want to or are just trying to dull a feeling. When you are ready, begin living...just don't wait too long because life might pass you by.