I never thought I'd say this - but having a chronic illness has turned out to be a gift - an unwanted gift ( like one of those white elephant gifts a friend gives you) that you really don't like and really don't want, but have to keep stashed away somewhere in the house, readily available to be brought out and displayed prominently for those times when your friend might drop by.
When I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome some 23 years ago, I was, as they say, in the "prime of life" - a young mother with three children - the youngest the age of 3.
I thought I had a bad case of the flu, and that it would all be over in a week or two. and then my life would return to normal. The "flu" got worse and worse and lasted longer and longer until I was too weak to even stand up and had to be hospitalized. I was plagued with chronic pain, chronic insomnia and chronic fatigue - and quickly withered away to 94 lbs and dropping. My husband took me from doctor to doctor as we both searched for not only the cause of my mysterious illness, but a cure.
Finally after many months, we found a doctor who not only diagnosed me, but over the years through her medial expertise and compassion helped me regain a semblance of my former self.
There was (and is) no cure. Some people do spontaneously go into remission, others do not and others (like myself) seem to reach a plateau where some symptoms are better and others remain chronic. I still suffer with fatigue (although thankfully reduced), chronic migraines, chronic insomnia and chronic pain.
The white elephant gift is still with me. I never wanted this gift, never liked it and still don't.
However, this gift has literally changed my life. Not in a self-limiting way (although that is the nature of the beast) but in a freeing way.
It has taught me to be more compassionate. Pain has a way of doing that, you know.
It has taught me to be intentional about living my life. Because of limited amounts of energy, I am forced each day to make choices - choices about what I need to do, but more importantly about what I want to do.
It has taught me to see each day as a gift and to drink in the beauty that each day holds in the moment - that moment - the moment I'm experiencing here and now.
It has taught me to develop my creative side - to realize that this illness I have cannot take away the creative gifts and talents the Good Lord has given me. The talents are still there - but the way I use them needs to be different now.
It has taught me to be grateful - grateful for the love of family and friends and for their understanding and support.
It has taught me to live each day in the grace of God - grace that has taken me this far in my journey and grace that will carry me the rest of the way.
Yes the unwanted gift is still with me. I hope one day to be able to finally put it to rest, but for now, I'll keep it stashed away (as much as I can), by choosing to live a creative and joyful life and on those days when it is on display in the middle of the room - I will look for something, anything beautiful in it.
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