Being chronically ill has given me more than all my other life experiences combined. “Given you more?! Don’t you mean that getting sick has taken everything away? Don’t you mean that it has kept you from having the life you imagined? That it's deprived you from doing what you wanted to do?” Sure…. That’s all true. But what’s equally true—and maybe even more true—is that the experience of being sick has provided potent, next-level ‘miracle grow’ for my soul. For me, no other experience has come even close to accelerating my evolution or fostering my development the way the experience of being chronically ill has. On some level I believe that being sick has healed me. I also believe that falling ill has the potential to bear riches for YOU too. It’s hard to believe at first—I know, so, let me explain.
:: From Seeking Approval To Having My Own ::
I used to be so preoccupied by what other people thought of me. I went to cool parties and did what the cool kids did. I was preoccupied with my 'image'. When I fell ill I simply didn’t have the extra energy required for any superficial nonsense. I couldn’t keep up and when I let go of appealing to some imaginary ‘other’ I released myself from heavy shackles I didn’t even realize I was carrying. I know now that I don’t need anything—clothes, tattoos, a sweet ride, certain friends, or to be seen anywhere special—to be acceptable.
Pulling away from ‘the scene’ to heal and to have quality time with me has provided me with tremendous freedom and perspective. I’ve sunk deeply into who I am and know that I’m cool and badass and righteous just because I’m me. I’m 100% certified approved by the creator. I’ve gotten to know myself through my healing journey and I’ve made friends with myself. Now that I have my own approval, I’ve discovered that I no longer require yours.
:: From Busy To Present ::
I used to have an insane amount of stuff on my plate at any given time. I was doing it all—without realizing that ‘all’ was way too much. If you had asked me at the time I would’ve told you that I was present for my life but I also had this unsettled feeling of being run off my feet and just ‘going through the motions.’ I would tell myself that I should be happy because I was doing what I wanted to, but the truth is that I wasn’t (and on some level I knew that). I was devastated when my body could no longer keep up with the pace I had set, but I suspect that my soul was relieved and that my heart quietly rejoiced.
While I’ve resisted at every turn the slowing down that falling ill has required of me, I have begun to see, hear, and feel things that had been muffled by the roar of busy. Much of what surfaced at first was painful. Years of unprocessed stuff bubbled up into the light of my awareness to be digested. As the fullness of ‘busy’ gave way to the spaciousness of solitude and rest, I began to ‘catch up’ with myself in the deepest sense. Something amazing happened. More than ever before, I was present, in the here and now, finally showing up for life. I felt present, aware, and connected, things no longer blurred by speed. While it may not look like it from the outside, I strangely feel more alive now than I ever have. While I’ve cursed my body for breaking down, I actually owe a deep bow of gratitude to my body for it’s by following its lead that I’ve finally woke up and come to my senses.
:: From Surface Skimmer To courageous Deep Diver ::
While I’ve always been intrigued and preoccupied by the big questions and deeper aspects of being human, like many, before I fell ill my attention was often spent on the superficial aspects of life. “What am I going to wear tonight? Is so-and-so going to be at that party?” While trivialities can make life enjoyable, interesting and entertaining, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to seriously trip-out on that stuff again. When you’ve had something really major on your plate, when you’ve had your nose pressed right up against the window of your own mortality, things come into sharp focus.
I can thank my illness for putting the small stuff into perspective and for freeing my attention and energy for what really matters. ‘What really matters’ is slightly different for everyone and it’s up to each of us to get in touch with what is central to our own existence. Getting super sick got me super clear about what matters to me. Packaged into being sick (or into whatever challenge brings you to your knees) is an opportunity to lean into the big questions. Only you have the answers. Use this opportunity to go deep and to get clear. Don’t waste it.
:: From Judgmental To Compassionate ::
I used to be super judgey. I’ll admit it. I had very little understanding of the human journey and all the extreme detours that inevitably come along with the ride. I had no compassion for humanness—yours or mine. Like a snotty teenager I thought I had this whole thing figured out and I judged those who were struggling. I’m not unique in this—the human mind is made to discern, judge, and compartmentalize. Looking back I can see that I had judgments around all kinds of human experience that I didn’t understand. One of the greatest gifts of this illness-process has been releasing judgment, both about others and about myself.
My suffering has landed me smack-dab in the deepest chamber of my heart. (Sure, I kinda landed flat on my face too but hey—I landed in my heart and that’s what’s important.) My own suffering has made me aware—not intellectually—but in a real, heart-breaking, visceral way to the suffering of others. This new awareness is not the kind of thing that I’ll ever be able to sweep aside or forget. My suffering has forever changed me. I feel your suffering as my own. The only sane response to suffering is compassion. If your illness or challenge gifts you only one precious thing I hope it’s this: deep and abiding compassion for yourself and for others.
:: from insecure to worthy ::
I used to think that I had to validate my existence somehow, like just existing was not enough. I didn't feel like enough. I thought I had to prove that I was worthy somehow and from this shaky place everything I did, who I dated, how much money I had—all stood as measures of my worth. Everything that I used to use to make myself feel good about me got stripped away when I fell ill.
Do you know what happens at first when you get too sick to keep up this external-validation game? You feel really insecure, useless, and even worthless for a while.
When I finally rested deeply in myself and stopped chasing validation, a deep sense of worth started to bubble up from within me. I realized that I’m worthy simply because I am. I’m worthy because I exist. Existing alone is proof of worth. Integrating this knowing has come with so much relief. Now what I do or don’t do comes from choice not from feeling that I have to prove something. I do things for the right reasons. I move from clarity and with dignity.
:: REFLECT ::
Have you noticed any inklings of treasure that have arisen as a result of your own suffering? Are you more compassionate, a better listener, or less judgmental?
What are the side effects of your own suffering (for better or worse)? Are you becoming bitter, disillusioned, or miraculously more kind or compassionate?
Have you ever considered that chronic illness or other harrowing undergoings are actually gifts in *very* dicey packages?
Copyright © 2015 Marie-Ève Bonneau