This piece has a purpose. It’s going to be a reaffirmation of life, a mantra of inner peace and a cathartic opportunity to exorcize the sadness and worries of some of us who are dealing with any serious health issues.
I used the term “health issues” because at this point in my fight, the word, “Illness” hurts. That’s something that I have to come to terms with.
I’m dealing with several health conditions at the moment. Some of them are under control, others are progressing. Depression, ulcerative colitis, HIV, OCD, bipolar disorder and Inclusion Body Myositis are some of my current challenges in life.
The most debilitating condition is my Inclusion Body Myositis. This is a chronic and degenerative auto-immune disease that attacks the muscles in my arms and legs, but other muscles can also be involved. After 14 years, the muscular degeneration has put me in a wheelchair.
Dealing with a progressive, degenerative disease is a process that many of us have to deal with every day, for the rest of our lives. In that journey we are confronted very often with the fear of not knowing what to do with an uncertain future, the prospect of an early demise, or the overall sadness that at times, feels like a knot in your chest. How I have dealt with all of these conditions, is the backbone of this column.
Let’s think about the concept of light and shadow. When we are facing the darkness of despair, we must make an effort to turn around and face the light that is causing the shadow. By confronting our reality, we can learn to handle the knife needed to carve a path to inner peace. That stillness of the heart is what gives us a particular kind of strength so needed in this process of dealing with a degenerative health condition.
Every day, because of my advanced muscle deterioration, I find myself unable to complete simple tasks that most people take for granted. I can’t bathe myself anymore, I need assistance with eating, grooming and getting in and out of my wheelchair, among other things.
I have been very lucky to have a husband that takes care of me like nobody else on this earth would be able to do. He cooks for me, feeds me, dresses me and helps me with more than my physical needs.
"A smile from a stranger, the beauty of nature, the healing powers of art, Puerto Rican style roast pork, and an enthusiastic, spontaneous compliment of my fabulous bow tie, all are joyful reasons to live another day."
I want to talk now about the concept of “gratitude”. All of us have many reasons to be grateful. Finding and embracing these reasons for gratitude definitely help in our life journey to banish clouds of negativity. Every new day gives us the opportunity to find those things that we can be grateful for in life, including the DAY itself. A smile from a stranger, the beauty of nature, the healing powers of art, Puerto Rican style roast pork, and an enthusiastic, spontaneous compliment of my fabulous bow tie, all are joyful reasons to live another day.
All of these things are very important for a sick person and can be used, like every experience in life, to help dissipate the shadows of insecurity, sadness, anxiety and despair.
These feelings are perfectly valid, indeed necessary in the process of eliminating shadows to reveal the light. I’m not Buddha, or Gandhi or Dr. Phil (heaven forbid) but I HAVE learned to make a conscious choice to CENTRE MYSELF on a daily basis. Finding that special place in our hearts will help validate the gift of being alive and help energize us in whatever battle we face, including serious health conditions.
Today is the day to accept and make friends with your inner warrior. Today is all we have. Every moment, every encounter with adversity can be an opportunity to reflect and NOT be consumed by negativity.
It’s my opinion that we ALWAYS have choices in life. I have made a conscious effort to choose life, hope, and beauty in my life rather than letting my health conditions define me, control me and drown me in despair.
I strive to be proactive in my life journey. and with my health issues. I ask my various clinicians questions about my meds, treatment and prognosis I strive to be proactive regarding my own emotional, psychological, spiritual health as well. I strive to recognize and cultivate that voice in my heart that urges me to appreciate every second I have left in this physical dimension.
How do we find happiness and joy when our hearts are heavy? How do we start to step out of this dark corner where many of us have spent far too much time? (It’s ok to sit in that corner for a while now and then when life hurts; what is not ok is getting too comfy there)
I don’t pretend that there are easy answers to these two questions. What I DO know however, is that there ARE answers and it’s been my job to find answers that work for me. Making the proclamation to ourselves and opening ourselves to more positive approaches to life makes it much easier to handle, admire and celebrate the beauty of a rose and accept the thorns that accompany its ephemeral existence.
Life is not easy for anybody. I’m sure Kim Kardashian gets tired carrying that ass around all day. I wouldn’t be surprised if Queen Elizabeth struggles daily with what crown to wear. Accepting the fact that EVERYBODY struggles, not just sick people or gay people, is liberating. Accepting the nature of this reality really makes it easier to deal with the dark periods we all face and helps find the beginning of a healing process.
Let’s try and start every day reminding ourselves that love and compassion are very important. Practicing on ourselves makes it easier to express to those around us.
Darkness is the absence of light so let’s all try to get more light in our lives to chase away the dark shadows. This process has been my recipe for finding and keeping joy and happiness in my life in spite of the chronic medical issues.