Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Uncommon Courage: A Life of Significance

This is an old blogpost from 2006:

There came a time during my long journey with Lupus when my mother asked me how to cope with illness. She was well into her journey with Shy-Drager, a very debilitating version of Parkinsons. To say it's difficult when the roles in life turn is an understatement. I wish I had been full of wisdom at that moment. Maybe in a small way there was some wisdom in what I said.

I told her my philosophy was to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep going and that's what she had to do too. We agreed we would do that together for as long as we each could. Then we had a discussion about what we each wanted and didn't want in regards to medical treatment. We made each other promises to safeguard each others dignity in the event we couldn't do it for ourselves. There were no tears during our conversation, but in the years since her passing I have often wilted into tears when remembering it. I kept my promise to her, there was no medical intervention with feeding tubes, IV's or medical machinery at the end of her journey.

Thinking back on the difficult times of my lupus journey I can say it's really not a simple thing to do to "keep going" when in the grip of 24/7 pain, shortness of breath and overwhelming fatigue. In fact, when faced with an incurable illness it takes an uncommon courage to even want to keep going. There were many times when I begged God to take me home.

But at the time when my mother and I had our conversation, I simply thought that to put one foot in front of the other and keep going was all I knew to do and certainly didn't think of it as courageous. To me it was just survival. In fact, everything I did; changing my diet to one without processed foods, being a guinea pig for an investigational drug, reframing my thoughts, exercising when I was physically able and my physician would let me, incorporating daily meditation, trying glyconutrient supplementation, was all, I thought, just a matter of survival. Not just to stay alive, but to keep my lifestyle and my independence.

But I've been told by four different people in the last few months that they view me as courageous. As I sit here pondering my journey to remission I have a hard time thinking of myself as courageous. It blows my mind anyone thinks of me as courageous. My journey to remission wasn't about courage, and though I thought it was about survival, it really wasn't even about survival; it was about having a significant life. Everyone wants their life to mean something. I have always thought one of the worst things about chronic illness is the loss of human potential. Illness illustrated to me very clearly the insignificance of monetary success and about personal growth and living a life of significance. Financial freedom means nothing if you're not also making a difference.

It takes real courage to live a life of significance. It takes insight, (some would say wisdom), to understand you can live a significant life even if you are coping with a seemingly incurable illness. Sometimes that is hard to see when you're living with 24/7 pain and little hope for respite. When illness strikes and your dreams suddenly seem unreachable; you must understand your illness, no matter what you no longer can do, does not make you any less important to the world. You must understand every existence is significant. By putting one foot in front of the other and keeping going you are, in fact, living a life of significance. You are giving value to life. There is nothing more noble.

So whatever hardships you are coping with in your life; change the things in your life which are negative or don't promote wellness and keep on keeping on. You are precious and your existence is significant.

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