Chronic illness has a way of intensifying winter. The cold harsh reality of a broken body and broken relationships can wear as thin as a windbreaker in a roaring blizzard. Finding warmth, joy and wholeness is a challenge during a numbness that never seems to thaw. The chill of winter reminds us to “chill” in the numbness. Even snowmen eventually thaw.
Chill of Winter
Chronic illness is like a constant winter season; dark, gloomy, isolating, incapacitating storms and bare of necessities. Once we get used to the state of illness, the chill can run deeper, like having the sting of freezing rain on one’s face and not being able to find shelter.
At some point, I remember the fight of the constant winter storm subsiding. I quit fighting my body and thinking it was broken. I quit fighting the abandonment issues and felt worthy regardless. I quit feeling the cold loneliness of isolation and learned how to enjoy my company in more valuable ways. I started to chill. I started to calm down. I started to inhale the chill pill deeper until I could actually feel the chill of the winter season.
I felt something. I finally actually felt something. I was still numb, still discombobulated, but I could feel something. Feeling anything except physical pain and misery was exciting and scary at the same time.
Slowly I realized that I was not feeling the chilling cold of long intense illness. There were still issues galore that had to be resolved but the numbness through and through was finally subsiding. Not in one huge marvelous wave, just tiny tinges of feelings that had seemed lost forever. I enjoyed those tinges. They gave me an extra dose of hope.
There is no chill pill that cures everything. There is no chill pill I could take to solve the multitude of physical issues I had to overcome. There was no chill pill that existed that calmed my spirit so I could relax into this process of healing.
All I wanted was a chill pill, even for a moment of relief.
Vices were gone that I had used in the past to endure, survive, overcome the moments at hand. I had chosen to heal my body and mind so I had to let go of all of the vices, everything. There was no longer anything to reach for that would relieve the pain. No longer any activities to do that would distract me from the realities at hand. As I let them slip away, dealing with chronic illness seemed to get more difficult, not easier. But it had to be done. If I wanted to live through this, I had no choice, which made it an easy choice.
I learned to find new chill pills that were part of a healthy lifestyle. Those that would create warm fuzzies for me, encompassing new sensations of comfort and safety.
I allowed myself to experiment with the joys that were within reach. I still felt cold and numb and almost lifeless at times but at least I could feel that I could not always feel.
Many times I hear this from people who are chronically ill — I can’t feel, I am numb, I cannot connect with people. I went through it, many of you are going through it or have moved through it, it is a common experience of being chronically ill. Knowing it was common did not make it any easier but it did allow for a change in the future. It helped me to hold on, wait it out, do what I could and let more go that I could not control.
The Big Chill
What if chronic illness arrived at just the right time in our lives to actually save us? Maybe save us from ourselves?
Those who decide to fight the deterioration and destruction of their bodies from disease have something inside that says, “Nope, this is not over, whether I understand it or not?”
I have not yet figured out why some choose to fight for their lives and others don’t. I don’t have a clue why some have faith in their bodies to rise above the near-death experiences of chronic illness. I have not one ounce of understanding about why people cannot be more loving during these crises.
The only thing that I do know is that when I chose the “Big Chill” and simply let everything be okay it was easier to bear, easier to lean into, easier to accept, easier to see a bigger picture.
There was a reason I became so ill, reasons far beyond the physical. The experience saved me from me. I grew to have a deep understanding of my body, my true needs, my existence beyond what others had created in their minds. I was a real person, separate from the realities I had lived in, yet part of a larger community that I had never been able to connect with before.
The Big Chill allowed me to let go of the fight, the constant battle over everything, health, relationships, financial realities, community and lack of. Still to this day I struggle with some of it to some extent but it looks entirely different than it used to.
Maybe it took the wild scary health issues to disconnect me from the meaningless so that I could learn how to connect more with the meaningful.
In a big way, it took the ride of chronic illness to break through the blinding blizzard into the sunshine with warmth and safety. Had the experience not happened I would still be fighting the endless winter blizzard, so cold that I could not feel the disconnect, so stranded and alone I could not see the path to safety, so utterly lost that even hope looked hopeless at times.
Winter can simply be a season. We have the ability to put it in context, even when it is very hard to see it. We can believe enough in ourselves, mankind, and God to swallow one big chill pill and let it be. Let it all be okay for the moment, knowing that it is only a season. Things will change.
Breaking Through the Storm
Others have overcome chronic illness, MANY others. We have examples of numerous ways that they have done it. No one way is right for another.
What I am seeing and realizing is that there are a few common denominators;
- Belief that we can overcome chronic illness
- Hope, even when we cannot see it
- Acceptance, we are not meant to be in control of everything
- Change, no matter how hard it is
- Without a “healthy” lifestyle we are stuck
- Forgiveness, allowing more forgiveness leaves room for healing
- Forgiving ourselves, without it there is no complete healing
- New definitions, finding our specific definitions for our lives
- What is “healthy”
- What is “healing”
- What is “safety”
- What is “giving”
- Charity, grace and mercy
- The more we can see from the eyes and actions of charity, grace and mercy the healthier we become
- Giving to others what we ourselves did not receive thaws the numbness
- Willingness to change perspective, on many things on many levels
- We are designed to grow, not stagnate and self-destruct
- Stop comparing to others, our health journies are ALL different
- What works for one is not necessarily THE solution for all
- Shift in expectations, life simply does not turn out the way we expected
- Allowing for the unexpected
- Making room for more than we expected
- Believe and trust in ourselves, we have true instincts when we tune in
- Taking action
- Others cannot do this work for us, we have to be willing to take action ourselves, for our own healing
A tall order, I know. I have lived it, still living it, still working on it. I personally want to keep growing, keep reaching new levels of healing with joy and wonderment as each winter season comes and goes. This is a lifelong adventure, not a one-time fix-all deal.
Shovel, No Plowing, Through the Storm
For now, I accept that I cannot plow through all of the necessary steps at one great leap. I accept that I no longer want to “plow through.” I am finding it to be more rewarding shoveling one scoop of snow at a time. Shovel by shovel, layer by layer, I am healing.
I want a more peaceful existence with myself, my fellow humans and my God. For now, no plowing, just taking good wholesome decent care of myself and those around me. And only to the best of my ability, I cannot give what I do not possess. Allowing for my faults, my lack of magical powers to solve everything instantaneously. Celebrating in exactly who I am, who I was created to be, and the path I was meant to be on.
Enjoying what I can when I can. It is wintertime and I can see the brilliant sunshine through the beautiful white snow of the season. Had the devastating wintertime not come, presenting itself in deadly chronic illness, I would not be alive today to be able to enjoy this winter season. I clearly see the difference in this winter from last winter, and especially the numerous winters before that. My latest health crash started 7 years ago. It has been a long difficult journey. One with grand outcomes.
My health alone has come light-years. I chose to do it the hard way, to fix the root causes, no bandaids and no shortcuts. My thinking has gone the gambit, now as clear as a bell with healthy choices from head to toe while allowing grace for circumstances out of my control. I choose to live above the circumstances, not under the circumstances.
After 5 decades of disease wreaking havoc in my body, creating havoc in my life, EVERYTHING has changed. The root causes are melting away as fast as the morning sun on icicles on the eves of my house. My mind and brain are waking up like preparation for their first Springtime. My relationships remain broken but my heart continues to fill with forgiveness for others and myself. All of the hard work of patience and perseverance are showing glorious signs of life and wellbeing.
Okay, so I am still not perfect. The beauty is that I now don’t expect perfection in anything or anyone, especially myself.
The beauty is in the mess of chronic illness. It truly is. It transforms us into more of who we were meant to be. Grand adventure!!!
Where Are You in This Winter Season?
Has your winter season been months, years, maybe even decades?
Do you know the next step to take to walk through it instead of getting stuck in the winter storm?
Are you able to see and accept that the growth and healing are in the next step, not in fighting the whole winter storm alone?
May your winter season bring you enlightenment to your specific healing,