The Frustrations and Value of Impermanence

"Without impermanence, life could not be" (Thich Nhat Hanh). Most human beings struggle to accept the impermanence that accompanies living. People want to deny that youth is not forever and that death is inevitable. During moments of happiness many pretend that their feelings will never end, and times of distress seem interminable. The difficulty with the impermanence can be present within so many aspects of life. Oftentimes people who live with chronic illness may become frequently frustrated with the impermanence of understanding; both of their own and of others. This can be an especially common experience for people who live with chronic invisible illnesses, where without visible reminders of the illness, others and at times even one's self, can forget that the illness is there and is real.

May is Lupus Awareness Month. Lupus can be an invisible illness, meaning that people with lupus often do not appear to look sick, according to how "sickness" is typically perceived to look by society. It can be very easy for people to forget that someone has lupus. Even if the existence of the illness is not forgotten, one can easily lose understanding of how the illness affects the person living with it. This impermanence of understanding can be extremely painful for a person who lives with lupus or any invisible illness for that matter. There can be such a strong desire to just believe that once an explanation of the illness and its impact is provided to loved ones, their understanding will be permanent. Just like everything else in life, it is not. Suffering may occur when a person behaves in a way that demonstrates that their understanding is gone, and once again the person living with the illness must attempt to explain what the experience of living with the illness is.

It can be so easy to become angry and frustrated when others' understanding is gone. They cannot see the illness and its symptoms, so they flee. People who live with lupus often hear, "but you look so good," in response to a declaration of pain or suffering. Other times, people may become irritated when a person with lupus has to cancel a plan due to flaring symptoms. The person with the lupus may be perceived as a "flake" by friends. These are the impermanent moments of life. These are the moments when one has to state again the hardships of living with lupus, despite "looking great!"These are the moments when one needs to explain for the hundredth time that if s/he does not rest, s/he could become dangerously ill. These are the frustrating moments when a person who lives with lupus wonders, "why do I have to explain this again?" These are the moments when one who lives with chronic invisible illness becomes angry or frustrated, or just avoids explaining again because s/he does not want to go through it again, or s/he just minimizes the reality of the impact of the illness. These are the moments when it is easy to say, "oh yeah, I am just being paranoid. I am fine," even though you are not. Do these have to be the only options? What would happen if one could embrace the impermanence?

Perhaps one of the hardest things to do in life is to accept the natural impermanence of everything, but the value of striving to be able to do so is great. A friend may not recall why you cancel plans so often but that is just impermanence. Accepting that, eliminates the jump to judgment; judgments of oneself for perhaps having to live with this difficult illness, as well as judgment of others for forgetting. It just is. It is no different that the impermanence of an emotion, the impermanence of a fully bloomed flower, or the impermanence of a satisfied belly. The only thing that makes these things different is the attributions people assign to them. Without those attributions one arrives to the natural impermanence of life. There is no need for shame. No need to hide one's illness and minimize its effects. With an acknowledgment of impermanence one can just explain again...101, 102, 103, and know that a flare that may be causing suffering is part of that natural impermanence as well.