Illness teaches us some remarkable lessons. Many of us go through life at such a pace, we rarely have time to dwell on the simpler things in life. We spend our days endeavouring to keep up with the demands of everyday life and it’s all too easy to lose the plot. When serious illness strikes, life is taken out of our control and we are forced into slow gear. For me, this has resulted in hidden benefits which have been beyond my wildest anticipation.
My medical history has taught me to expect the unexpected. This does not mean that I sit out my life waiting for the next thing to go wrong. Now, I’m no saint but I have learnt to appreciate the good things in life and to go with the flow when things aren’t so great. I’ve also found out who my real friends are and who I can rely upon for help, without needing to ask. I think one of the most important things I’ve learnt is that most people only ever want to hear that you’re well. I’m referring to that glazed look given in response to someone rabbiting on about their latest medical drama. When asked about my health, I will always respond positively even when the going is tough. If someone really cares enough they’ll probe further and if they don’t, then I’m not missing much anyway. I have experienced so much stop/start to my life through illness, it no longer holds any drama for me. Only those who need to know are informed. I know that if I showed my hospital CV to some of my family and friends, they would be astounded. That’s another lesson illness has taught me. Families are not necessarily the most supportive when recurrent illness strikes. A once-off event is fine and lots of fuss will be made but don’t expect to get sympathy on a regular basis or you might be in for a surprise. I’ve come to the conclusion that chronic illness is sometimes seen by others as some kind of failure and thus it is not openly acknowledged. I’ve been lucky in that my immediate family are very understanding and supportive and I also have some amazing friends who I never, ever have to ask for help. I used to despair over some people’s odd reactions to illness but these days I see that sort of behaviour as their problem, not mine and I’ve learnt to let it go. Illness does have some bonuses. Adversity sometimes brings out strengths you never knew you possessed and this all helps to ease the lonely journey. Illness has certainly helped me to become more insightful and I find this invaluable in everyday life. When life grinds to a halt, I get to see the world through different eyes. I have referred to this in the past as discovering magic and I can assure you that life takes on a whole new perspective. I’m not a particularly religious person but I’ve been left with a profound belief that I am not only incredibly lucky, I also think I’ve found the plot in life.
It’s a real privilege and a self-indulgence to have the luxury of this forum to share my experiences of illness with anyone who cares to read my story. I’ve received some lovely comments in response which I treasure and for which I’m truly grateful. In early January this year, my blog was short-listed as a finalist for a worldwide Medical Blog Award (Best Patient Blog category) and I was honoured to be the only Irish blog selected. Last week I was nominated for an Irish Blog Award (Best Personal Blog category) which again, is a totally unexpected bonus. I’ve put my story into words in the hope it will help others to see that there’s two sides to every story. My medical saga may not have ended but I live in hope of better times ahead, secure in the knowledge that I can cope with whatever comes my way.
I have one final plea which comes from the heart. I’d like to take the liberty of reminding you to reach out to anyone you know who may be unwell – it doesn’t matter how large or small the gesture is – I simply plead with you not to wait to be asked to help. There’s nothing lost, but plenty to be gained. Take it from one who knows!
But Steph, you are not sick unless you wear a plaster cast or have crutches! 😉
An illness has to be seen to be believed (by some) but as I said earlier, that kind of response is their problem, not ours! 🙂
Brilliant post, Steph – boy, I know what you’re talking about.
Your line: “I’ve come to the conclusion that chronic illness is sometimes seen by others as some kind of failure and thus it is not openly acknowledged.” really struck me – I’ve been staggered at how some people, often close family (waves to mother), actually come out and say “Well, what’s the matter with you, how did this happen” as though you’re some kind of reject – and in this case, a very poor reflection on them.
And yes, illness brings powerful lessons and insights – about all sorts of things. 🙂
You are soooo right Steph!
Thank you! AV
I really enjoyed writing that piece as it’s something I’ve wanted to say for a long time. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve not always enjoyed the empathy you clearly deserve though I don’t think that you’re in anyway unusual in that. I think that mothers (waving at mother) in particular are guilty of stepping over the line of acceptable behaviour in this regard.
I have learnt to rely only on those people whom I know will be there for me through thick and thin. I let the rest fight amongst themselves 😀
Grannymar – thank you again!
The only problem with the uncomplaining attitude is that people can be caught out.
I visited a man a number of times who was very seriously ill – there was extensive cancer. even in ICU he just said there were a few problems. When he died, his sisters were taken aback, one said to me that he had told her he was having a few “stomach problems”.
Maybe they weren’t hearing what he was saying to them
I agree with you. You have to be careful to send out the right message so that those who do want to hear it, will pick it up!
I see two sides to your story. That man could well have been in denial himself (as is often the case with cancer) and therefore unable to supply the right information. Alternatively, it could be that his relatives were reluctant to ask the right questions for fear of the answers they might hear or as you suggest, maybe he was telling them but they failed to ‘hear’. It’s sad to think of the loneliness that man must have suffered as a result of the lack of sharing with his family.
btw I’m very good at complaining but I don’t believe in moaning 🙂