I’m not Ann Landers and I don’t have offer and advice column. I hope you’ve noticed that these posts intend to inspire questions rather than give answers, offer ways to think differently and encourage you to take risks. And, most importantly, to find the resources and help you need to do this.
That said, this email, sent asking for advice, included a comment (in bold)that resonated and I have to share it.
Do you feel better when you do more? Regardless of your capacity, do you think that activity, and work, in particular, helps you thrive when you live with a chronic health challenge?
FYI: The writer gave me permission to post this with her name.
Hi Rosalind! I am so appreciative of your hard work in bringing articles and suggestions to light with regard to working and living with chronic illness. I have Sjogrens Syndrome and it seems like the more I do (work, stay active), the better I feel both physically and emotionally.
However, I’m getting so tired of taking so many medications each day and I’m looking for an alternative. Do you know of any resources and stories of success that you can share? I’m very good about following doctor’s orders but I’m at the point to where I’m ready to try something altogether different; for example, special diet, exercise, etc. I’ve reached a plateau with my medications but I don’t want to go to higher doses because we’ve tried that and I have adverse effects.
I also appreciate your book, very much. I thought that I was destined to stay in the house for the rest of my life until I read your book. Now, I work again and I love my work very much (I’m a special ed. teacher). I figure that if I can do it, with determination, anyone can. Your book helped me realize that, along with my doctor who refuses to let me give up hope.
Lynda S. Chick
I’m delighted to hear that you find staying active improves your overall well-being.
What a good question you ask. Here are some questions to consider: Have you discussed that you think you’ve plateaued with your meds with your doctor? Do you and she/he talk about what you might do together to evaluate this? Healthcare professionals who partner with you are a tremendous resource and sometimes we need to nudge them to do this.
I’ve done a wide range of traditional medical procedures and meds, exercise programs, meditation/focusing practice, acupuncture and other complementary medical resources. Some are more useful than others and it’s important to know before you start how you will evaluate their usefulness.
Each of us has to do what we can to improve our overall mental/emotional/physical and spiritual self. That often means taking risks to see what works for you.
Thank you for sharing.
This is a Guest Post by Jessica Socheski.
In 2007, Sheldon Cohen, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, revealed that stress can be a factor that contributes to and worsens illnesses, “… in particular depression, cardiovascular disease and HIV/AIDS.”
The links between depression and stress prove complex. In some cases, a stressful event can lead to depression, and other times, the stress caused by enduring a chronic illness can lead to depression. Science Daily reports that depression is common “among people who have been diagnosed with a serious illness, suggesting that physical disease itself is a stressful event that can lead to depression.”
Life stress is serious, too. Chronic stress, which often comes from the daily grind of the workplace, can play a part in bringing on cardiovascular illness like coronary heart disease. This relationship has been clearly revealed as stress wears on the heart by raising blood pressure and inhibiting the body from fighting off illness.
Less clear is the connection between HIV/AIDS and stress. However, there is a consistently demonstrated link “… between stress and the progression of AIDS.” In Cohen’s article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), it was reported that “…changes in the autonomic nervous system caused by stress may also contribute to disease progression by influencing the replication of the HIV virus.
How Does Stress Impact Disease
Researchers are still discovering the role which stress can play in a chronic illness. The impact of stress might take place behaviorally because people under severe stress tend to:
•Smoke more often
•Not follow through with medical treatment and doctor’s advice
But stress might also surface biologically. Stress can trigger the body’s endocrine system to release hormones which would affect the body’s other systems, “… including the immune system,” notes Science Daily .
Identifying Your Stressors
Stressors are things or events which interfere with a personal goal. And the more highly a person values their goal, the more stress the person will feel when the goal comes under a threat. For example, a student who values arriving at class on time (the goal) will become stressed when stuck in a traffic jam (the stressor).
If reading the possible effects of stress has you stressing out even more, take a moment to breathe and relax because stress is a natural and normal part of life. Your ability to feel stress means that your body is reacting to its surroundings properly and adapting to change just the way it is designed to.
Everyone experiences stress and its symptoms. It is when negative stress becomes common and intense that it can prove harmful to a person’s health. When dealing with a chronic illness, it proves especially important to protect your body from anxiety by identifying the stressors in your life and deciding how to handle them.
Stress can be caused by any number of events and worries including financial, work related, emotional or a life crisis to name just a few. With recent changes in health insurance, many people are dealing with high stress over their healthcare plans. Other events which can trigger stress in the mind and body include:
•Dramatic life changes such as divorce or unemployment,
•Disasters including a hurricane, earthquake or disease,
•Daily hassles such as traffic jams.
Can You Fix Stress?
“Stop stressing.” That is a lot easier to say than to actually do. Stress often creeps up stealthily before we realize the toll it is taking. If you are dealing with a chronic illness, you already have plenty of stressors in your life and deal with them on a daily basis.
There is no one solution to solving stress. It is also not possible to eradicate it completely. Fortunately, it is possible to learn how to manage stress and help your mind, emotions and body to recover from stress to fight illness and work towards healing.
. Helpguide.org recommends the four As:
•Avoid unnecessary stressors by choosing between the “‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ on your to-do list and steering clear of people and situations” that cause unwarranted stress.
•Alter situations which can’t be avoided. Use assertiveness to deal with problems rather than living in fear of them. Vocalize concerns rather than “bottling up your feelings and increasing your stress.” Work to find compromises to help an issue or circumstance.
•Adapt to certain stressors with a new mindset and positive outlook. Refocus on the big picture and take time during the day to be thankful for the little things in life. When possible, just choose not to become upset about things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme.
•Accept things that you can’t change and look for the possible positives like personal growth. Accept that you aren’t perfect, and neither is anyone else. This will help you give grace to both yourself and others.
Along with mental ways to approach your stress, you can also work on physical aspects like setting aside quiet time to relax, exercising regularly, eating healthy meals and making sleep and proper rest a priority.
Once you learn to recognize stressors and defend yourself against unnecessary stress, you will be better able to improve your outlook and your health and work with your body towards recovery.
Image from www.bestthinking.com
Today, I’m sharing 3 sites that I hope will stimulate your thinking. Of course, all are related to living with health challenges, though none are specific to career. But doesn’t your ability to keep working tie directly into your efforts to manage difficult health?
Choosing Wisely, Massachusetts encourages physicians and patients to discuss medical tests and procedures that may be unnecessary, and in some instances cause harm. Part of the national Choosing Wisely Campaign, sponsored by ABIM Foundation, this site is produced by Massachusetts Health Quality Partners (full disclosure: I chair MHQP Consumer Health Council and sit on the Board of Directors). This is useful wherever you live within the U.S. I think that this has tremendous potential for changing the way we think, talk and ask for our healthcare. Consider this: How much work time have you lost on tests or procedures that yield no new action or worse, are harmful? Can you imagine what might change if patients and care providers understood why and how to have these conversations?
‘Living with an Invisible Illness’ was written by a student and published in The Michigan Daily. It describes her efforts to get a college education while living with that insidious thing we refer to as invisible illness. The writer describes the woefully inadequate services that are provided, her concerns and her frustration. Reading this is a glimpse into the lack of support and systems that are available — and this at a truly great school (my daughter, niece and nephew are alums!) . FYI – I developed my Kickstart Your Career Program for just this reason. College career advisory programs are unprepared for the challenges facing those who live with unpredictable health problems. If you know a young person in this situation, send them to my website.
A former client sent me “Maybe It Makes Us Worse”, suggesting I might want to comment or write about it. I’m doing both. Published in the Belmont Patch Slice of Life column, the pieces refutes the phrase, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” (Friedrich Nietzsche). The writer says that she has always hated this expression (ditto here). She describes two near death experiences that did not make her stronger. But the major point of the article refers to people who live with chronic illness, something that rarely kills but, she believes, doesn’t make us stronger, either. “These people are often exhausted, acquiescent, discouraged, frustrated. But I know of no one who would claim that their chronic illness has made them significantly stronger.” Do you think living with illness has depleted or toughened you?
If you live with debilitating chronic health problems, just the idea of setting New Year’s resolutions can be irritating, even infuriating. Over the past 24 hours, I heard this response from two people, a friend and a client. Both live with very difficult to manage, debilitating health problems.
My friend told me, in a tone of real sadness, “Each day challenges me. Why would I even dream of creating more work for myself?”
Sounding quite angry, my client described listening to colleagues share their New Year’s Resolutions at the ‘water cooler’. “Not me. When I was healthy, I looked forward to New Year’s and making yearly resolutions. I thought I could do whatever I set out to do. Hah – that was then Now, I’m mad just thinking about this.”
I can see their point. Life isn’t as straight forward as they once thought it could be. But aren’t these yearly ‘resolutions’ designed to encourage people (healthy and not) to create intentions for what they want their lives to be? Isn’t it what we, who live with real challenges daily, need most?
The thing is that doing it once a year doesn’t do the trick, for anyone. Within a few days, weeks or even months, you’ve forgotten what you thought was important at that moment.
I’ve found that living with chronic illness presents intense and demanding challenges and clear resolve is more valuable than ever. I’ve learned that I need to know what I want to do, what I want to be thinking about, and what I want to accomplish, whether I achieve it or not. This resolve shifts me from a place of what isn’t to a place of possibility and hope. It is my personal daily workout routine, my exercise in building and maintaining resilience.
Today is the first day of the rest of your life. What will you make of it?
Does the holiday “season” seem endless and overwhelming? Is it filled with events you’re expected (and/or want) to attend, shopping for gifts, and too much bad eating? When you live with a debilitating chronic health condition, and you’re already in a perpetually tired state and feeling the pressure that comes from not having enough energy to accomplish what you ‘should’, this time of year can put you ‘over the edge’.
For 35 years, I’ve struggled to manage expectations and what I can deliver. It’s gotten easier as I’ve gotten better at it but it’s never simple. And for the past 12 years, as I’ve worked with people with chronically poor health, the stories I hear this time of year share familiar themes.
“Everyone complains that there’s too much to do and not enough time. But don’t they realize what it takes for me just to show up? I’m supposed act festive but I feel different, alone and angry.”
“People make snide comments that I’m not showing up for the Holiday parties. Don’t they know I’m not well? They don’t seem to care enough to even try to understand.”
”My supervisor dumped a new project on me yesterday that he said must be done before I start my vacation next week. Doesn’t he know how much pressure I’m under already? I wanted to tell him that I’m already behind and I can feel that there’s a “flare” coming on but he didn’t seem interested.”
Do you notice that each scenario involves communication? The specifics vary but inevitably it boils down to what is NOT said and the frustration that simmers from this.
I’ve seen that when a person learns to take a more strategic approach to these kinds of interactions, it is possible to make the communication more effective. You can get more of what you want and need and feel better about yourself.
1. What I want and what is possible in this situation?
2. What do I need to know to figure out what action to take?
3. What do I need to say to make that happen?
Over these past 12 years, I continually learn from my clients. One thing I’ve seen is that when you adapt a strategic approach, as laid out above, and then apply specific tactics to what you say and do, you can make big improvements in your life.
For that reason, I decided to revise my Booklet, “Are You Talking?”, in my Career Thrive Series. I kept what worked and added more chapters and new ideas. I plan to revise the other Booklets at some time and the price will most likely go up. But it’s still priced at $10. Now, that’s what I’d call good value for your own holiday gift. Treat yourself!
She told me her story. She lost her job and lives with unremitting pain. C (her name and most details have been changed) lives with a chronic disease that causes deep pain at unpredictable times. Although she had completed her most recent project on time and on budget, with raves from the client, she had been fired. Her exit review said that she hadn’t met performance standards– “Her direct reports says she shows disruptive and unpredictable flares of temper.” and “Her colleagues say that her behavior is unpredictable.”
When her supervisor gave her this demanding project, she had just been diagnosed. She had tried to explain that she wasn’t healthy and shouldn’t do this, but he told her not to worry. He valued and trusted her — she was the best at what she did and she should just keep at it. Couldn’t she see that this project was necessary to her career?
He had been her mentor and friend and now she feels betrayed because he didn’t listen to her. But she doesn’t know how she would do this differently in the next job. She feels hopeless thinking about her future.
I told her that she seems to have lost her ‘resilience’, she agreed. ”How can I be resilient when my health is getting worse? I no longer believe in the the one thing I could count on, my strong relationships and success at work. I don’t know how to talk about what I need. More importantly, I don’t believe I’ll be heard.”
The sad fact is that most of us who live with invisible health problems feel misunderstood.
In this post, How Doctors Respond to Chronic Pain, the physician writer poignantly describes how he was busy scribbling notes as a patient described her extreme pain. When the patient suddenly shifted into complaining that he wasn’t listening, he felt defensive and angry. But when he thought about the interchange after, he realized that she was right. He hadn’t been listening to her. The author noted that physicians frequently ‘tune out’ their patients with chronic pain because they have few tools to offer that will actually improve the patient’s condition. Physicians and most healthcare providers (and coaches!) fall into the trap of feeling helpless if they can’t ‘fix’ something. And that helplessness translates into ignoring what the patient actually wants — to listen with empathy.
How does this relate to C? Despite my years of training and experience and even my personal experience in living with ‘unsolvable’ health conditions, when faced with someone’s emotional pain due to life with illness, my knee jerk reaction is to run toward the fire to put it out.
Fortunately, when she told me her story in our first call, I had just read this article. I took a breath before speaking and reminded myself I didn’t have a magic bullet to shoot down her fears. But I could let her know that I understand how difficult this is for her. And that together, we would work to develop strategies that would improve the situation.
I was delighted by her relief. She sounded (dare I say) hopeful? In time she will find renewed resilience.
Do you struggle to actively listen to another’s story of pain? Do you wonder what to say or do that will demonstrate that you have heard?
Do you struggle to feel heard? Do you wonder what to do to make it happen?
Go ahead, tell me. Tell us and post your comment. We’re listening.
Frustration drove me to write a book. I wanted to debunk a message that too many of my female clients told me was wrecking havoc in their lives. Family, friends, healthcare team and co workers told them that continuing to work was harmful to their health. The ‘prevailing wisdom’ goes like this: work is stressful (can be — but so can driving in traffic), stress provokes illness (therefore you must avoid getting angry or tense?), therefore work is bad for people (primarily women it seems) with chronic health problems. With almost 35 years of living with illness, I can say from personal experience that this is not a useful equation. In fact, I believe that this thinking can be harmful to your health.
The book that I wrote with Joan Friedlander, Women, Work and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working Girlfriend! made the case that not only is it possible to continue to work while living with chronic illness, it can improve your health outcomes and overall well being.
A caveat: In writing this, we recognized that there are those who do not have a choice about working. That, however, was not our target audience. We wrote this book for those who believe that they have options beyond not working but either cannot see them or need a motivating prod to push them along.
Recently, several articles have reminded me that healthy people and those who live with difficult health face many of the same hurdles. The difference lies in the packaging and the details. I am also reminded that women are particularly vulnerable to these challenges. The reality is that healthy and not so healthy women face tough decisions about their work commitment just when they need to make strong personal commitment to building a family. Career often takes a back seat during the prime career development years.
A recent article in The New York Times, “The Opt Out Generation Wants Back In“, focused on women who left the workforce to stay at home with their children, and the challenges they faced when they tried to return. Some left because their pay didn’t even cover child care cost, others because their work demanded too much time with too little flexibility. Some wanted to be home with their children and figured it wouldn’t be hard to return to work when they were ready. Others were urged by their working husbands that the family would benefit with mom at home. Regardless of why they left, the article explored the difficulties they faced in trying reenter the workforce.
These were all young, healthy women. Those who contact me face even bigger hurdles. Their health challenges mean that they must find and keep jobs where they can manage their family and their health needs (e.g., flexible scheduling, deadline changes, choosing to be under-employed, etc.). As you can imagine, this greatly reduces their options.
Another article, in the Harvard Business Review, Women Rising, the Unseen Barriers, describes the discrimination women face as they try to rise to leadership positions. Among other issues, women who are deeply invested in their careers experience bias from the male dominated world as they manage the multiple pieces of their lives while trying to prove that they have the capability to lead. The article cites gender bias as the major contributor.
Bias spills into many pockets of the workforce. People, particularly women, living with illness experience this when they ask to work differently due to health needs or speak about debilitating symptoms. As Laurie Edwards writes beautifully in her book, In the Kingdom of the Sick, women and men living with the same disease are invariably treated differently.
In my book, I wrote that chronic illness is an ‘equal opportunity employer’ in that it affects all ages, races, religions and gender. I’ve heard from dozens of men about the negative impact chronic illness has had on their career and personal lives. But none of the men, young or old, with whom I’ve spoken told me that it was ever suggested that they leave the workforce because it is harmful to their health. Mothers living with chronic illness often get a strong push, from many parts of their lives, to leave the workforce, at whatever cost.
The fact is that autoimmune diseases, the largest category of chronic disease, are four times as prevalent in women as men. AD onset typically occurs in the prime career building and child rearing years, between ages 25-45.
In light of these challenges, I have revised my workbook, KEEP WORKING WITH CHRONIC ILLNESS 3rd edition. The same ideas are there but based on reader feedback they’re presented with greater clarification. And I developed new skill sheets and guided worksheets as well.
FYI: This workbook is intended for men and women, those just getting started and those making career changes. The information includes career assessment, job and career identification, and making it happen. For the next month, it’s going to stay at the same price as Edition 2 – Just $44 for all that information and you get a phone call with me, too!
And while you’re at it, check out my Career Change and KickStart Programs, too. These are value laden and designed just for people like us.
You can ‘opt out’ thinking you don’t have a choice. OR you can do yourself a big favor by investing your time and resources into figuring out what you can do for yourself, beyond just surviving.
When my mother had a severe heart attack at age 60, her life was literally turned upside down. Since I was young, she had worked full time and loved doing so. She also frequently suffered with various bouts of fatigue and pain (and no diagnosis) that could put her to bed. Although she never missed work nor stop herself from doing anything because of the fatigue or pain, she lived most of her adult life with unpredictable and relatively debilitating health. From my vantage point, it seemed like she regarded it as a fact of life and spoke about it without self pity or anger.
But the heart attack, requiring surgery and long bed rest, combined with the weight of a life threatening diagnosis, was a turning point. Years later, she confided that when she returned to work, she felt that people treated her differently and she felt she’d lost their respect. This made her very uncomfortable but she didn’t think there was anything she could do about it. At the same time, she got the strong message from her husband, her doctor and some friends, that she was making her health worse by continuing to work. She wasn’t ready to retire but she didn’t see any options. When she left the workforce, she made what felt like the easiest choice available. I can’t say that leaving the workforce prolonged her life. But I do know that she experienced a lot less satisfaction with her life.
For most people, the sudden onset of debilitating health challenges feels similar to being hit with a steamroller. Even those who are familiar with chronic heath problems. Typically, you don’t have the time, however, to stay down. Work and life responsibilities are demanding you keep going.
The fact is that few of us have the skills or preparation to integrate difficult health into our lives. We are even less prepared for how others will respond to it. It is probably the single biggest issue that comes up for my clients. Ironically, it is a relatively straightforward issue to address.
Recently, a reporter for The Daily Muse asked for my thoughts about this (How to Handle a Major Health Issue at Work). Her article makes valuable points and I urge you to read it if you’ or someone you know is facing this.
The bottom line is that there is a minefield you want to avoid: the trap of thinking that you can do this alone. Health challenges, and especially chronic ones, are a significant setback. It’s admirable to want to be positive and intend to keep living your life as you’ve always done. But it’s rarely easy or straightforward and it often requires a different way of viewing your life and your interactions with others.
I explore the challenges of living with illness and working in detail in both my book (Women, Work and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working Girlfriend) and my Career Thrive Booklets. My mother wasn’t the only person who left the workforce before she was ready because she couldn’t figure out how to manage her health and other people’s responses to it. If you’re struggling with unpredictable/debilitating health and challenged by how to manage this at work, give yourself a gift. Take the time, devote your resources, and spend what it takes to integrate difficult health into your life so you can continue to create the successes that allow you to thrive .
Twenty years ago, I was on SSDI for several years. When I felt well enough to try returning to the workforce, I worried I’d lose my benefits and not have the health to work. I did it anyway and it worked out for me. But I wish that the Return to Work program was available then. It would have made the transition a lot less worrisome. I’m told things are different now.
This post was contributed by Molly Clarke, the Social Media Coordinator for Social Security Disability Help. She contributes regularly to the Social Security Disability Help Blog.
Returning to work after receiving disability benefits can be overwhelming and confusing. While most people would prefer to regain their health and return to work, many don’t know where to start and worry about losing the safety net of disability benefits. If you find yourself facing these circumstances, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has implemented several incentive programs to ease your transition back into the workforce. This makes it possible for disabled workers to return to work slowly without having to jeopardize their benefits.
The following article will provide step-by-step instructions to help you get back to work.
The SSA’s primary work incentive program is called “Ticket to Work”. This program was started as a way to remove the barriers that were preventing SSD recipients from returning to work. This program offers the following services:
• Job training to teach you how to perform different types of work that will be less impacted by your health condition.
• Job referrals
• Vouchers or credits to cover work-related expenses like transportation fees or assistive technology.
• Continuation of SSDI, SSI, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits while partaking in the program.
• Suspension of continuing disability reviews while partaking in the program.
• A “Trial Work Period” during which you can attempt to work without jeopardizing your benefits.
TRIAL WORK PERIOD
One of the most useful aspect of Ticket to Work program is trial work period. If you choose to partake in the trial work period, you will continue to receive benefits regularly for nine months. You should note that a month will only count toward your trial work period if you earn $750. The months of your trial work period do not need to be consecutive. It will only end after you’ve earned at least $750 in nine months within a five year period. This security will allow you to return to work without losing your benefits if your work attempt fails.
During your trial work period, you must provide the SSA with the following information:
• Changes in your hours or work schedule
• Changes in your assigned duties or pay
• Expenses used to accommodate your return to work, including things like assistive devices and transportation fees.
You can report these changes in person, by fax, or by calling your local Social Security office
AFTER YOUR TRIAL WORK PERIOD
Once your trial work period is complete, the SSA will evaluate your ability to earn Substantial Gainful Activity—or SGA. In 2013, SGA is $1,040 per month. If your average earnings during your trial work period average or exceed SGA, your benefits will be discontinued. If your earnings do not exceed SGA, you will continue to receive your benefits.
At the end of your trial work period you will enter what is known as an, “Extended Period of Eligibility”, or EPE. EPE lasts a total of 36 months. During this time, your SSDI benefit will be determined on a monthly basis. Months in which you exceed SGA you will not receive a check. Months in which you do not exceed SGA you will receive your benefits. After the EPE is complete, your benefits will be terminated the first month in which your income exceeds SGA.
If, after the EPE, your benefits are discontinued and you cannot continue to work, you will have access to expedited reinstatement of your benefits. You can file for expedited reinstatement within five years after your benefits are initially terminated. While waiting for your expedited claim to be processed, the SSA will provide you with disability benefits for 6 months while they determine whether or not you still meet the eligibility requirements.
If you are ready to return to work, you should contact the SSA to learn more about the available work incentives and to see exactly how your benefits will be affected.
For more information, visit Social Security Disability Help (http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/glossary/ticket-to-work) or contact Molly Clarke at email@example.com .
NOTE: This is a guest post written by a former teacher who left work due to serious health problems and is currently building her own business as a copy editor.
Recently I came across an article in The Guardian, “Top five regrets of the dying.” In it, the author describes “regrets people have at the end of life”, as noted by a palliative care nurse.
As someone who lives with a difficult chronic illness, I found one point in the article to be particularly frustrating:
“Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result (of suppressing their feelings in order to keep peace with others).” I have several problems with this statement.
1. The author uses the term “relating to”, rather than “caused by”, denoting a correlation between bitterness and resentment and illness, rather than causation. Although she’s not saying that these feelings create illness, the implication is there .
2. The statement promotes the idea in healthy people that by continuing to do the “right thing” (e.g., not harbor negative emotions), they can avoid illness. It seems to me that this creates a sense of false control that most likely will lead to even greater distress if serious illness or injury does occur.
3. Additionally, this idea blames the unhealthy for being unable to manage their emotions more successfully. This implies that chronically ill people cause their disease and failure to improve is their fault. Where’s the science to support this? Also, in my experience, this kind of blaming is counterproductive for someone who is struggling to improve her health.
4. Finally, what illnesses does she think are related to bitterness and resentment? Is she including all illnesses? Does she limit it, such as this is true for heart conditions or autoimmune diseases? Is she including the child or infant with cancer? Furthermore, while anger, for example, has been shown to play a role in the development of cardiovascular disease, I haven’t seen a scientific study that cites feelings as the root cause of an illness.
My personal experience has been contrary to the above cited quote. When I became ill, at age 29, I was extremely happy in all areas of my life. Everything was coming together for me. I enjoyed a teaching career, my friends, my family, and my hobbies. If I was experiencing bitterness and resentment, it’s news to me. Even now, looking back, I don’t see it.
I volunteered in a children’s hospital where I spent time with a two year old girl with leukemia. While reading books and singing songs to distract her from the IV medication dripping into a central line in her chest, I did not wonder if she was reaping what she sewed. I believed then, and still do, that her illness was caused by multiple factors, all beyond her control and having nothing to do with her emotional state. Had I thought otherwise, it would have been difficult to give her the support she needed.
When I was a teacher, I was trying to educate a group of third graders about their classmate with a neuropsychiatric disorder. I explained that their body might not always work in the same way as it does today. Trying not to scare them, I used the analogy of getting old, something they could relate to but was far away. My goal, aside from ensuring that this child be accepted by his classmates, was to help the students understand his condition. I wanted them to know that the disorder he lived with did not indicate a character flaw nor was it his fault. For the most part, they seemed to understand this, and I hoped that they would carry this attitude with them into adulthood.
I stumbled on this article online where it had been ‘shared’ among friends. I was struck that the author’s words seemed to remind them, the “healthy” people, how important it is to appreciate each day. That’s a good thing. But this is a lesson that those of us who live with debilitating chronic medical condition live with on a daily basis. Experience teaches us to appreciate even the smallest accomplishments.
My message to people who enjoy good health: Any one of us is vulnerable to disease or a life-altering injury that can turn our world upside down. There is no point in fearing this possibility. Please appreciate what you can do, take care of yourself as best you can, and live your life to the fullest while enjoying your full health.
But please, do not create what you believe to be a feasible scenario in which ill people have only themselves to blame. When the time comes that illness befalls you, as it almost inevitably will, you will not want our judgment. You will want our wisdom.