Illness can be a magnificent teacher if you allow it. In the 18 months since I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, each day I learn something new about me or the world.
But not everyone I meet with this or other dis-eases is so open to illness being a teaching experience. I see the sadness that weighs on so many people that attend MS events. I hear it on facebook and forums. The message is, “I have given up joy.”
This isn’t limited to those with MS. My mother, who suffered from diabetes and heart disease, had given up on joy. Any recommendations to reverse her condition (whether by her doctors or me) was met with, "it's too hard, you just don't understand". This is an attitude I see often. It breaks my heart.
But then you see people like Kris Carr, Montel Williams or Zoe Koplowitz. They don’t crumble under the weight of the disease. They approach dis-ease with an “at all costs” attitude; trying anything and everything to feel better, to be joyful, to live. I call these people Wellness Heroes.
So what distinguishes Kris Carr from my mother? Let me tell you a story.
I used to be quite the gardener. At one point, I had almost 400 square feet of garden planted with everything from tomatoes to potatoes and corn to peas. Last spring I got into the garden to prepare the soil. As any gardener knows, that involves a lot of squatting and weeding. The first time I stood up after weeding, I almost fell back down. I was dizzy and had a tad of vertigo. Not a fun feeling.
I tried again. Same result. I couldn't continue this way. But what was going to happen to my beloved garden? It went to seed. Gardening had lost its therapeutic value for me and had become a burden. It was painful to visit my backyard and see how weeds had taken over.
By late summer, the garden was a jungle. My husband, who loves homegrown tomatoes but doesn't have the gardening know-how, asked what he could do to help. But it was too late. Nevertheless, he persisted that we had do something other than pave it over. I told him that maybe if the beds were raised a few feet it would be easier for me - at least in the early mornings and evenings. What guy doesn't love a chance to use his table saw? So he started to reclaim our plot from the weeds. It took months and a lot of backbreaking labor on his part. The project lasted into this spring. By May, I had four 4 ft x 8 ft boxes that were each 2 ft high. He then filled them with straw and paper and compost and soil and lots of other goodies plants love.
Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. ~Abraham Lincoln
Why do I share this story? I could have told my husband last fall not to bother. I could have said, let's just pave it over or put in lawn. But then I would have walked the same path as my mother, I would have been giving up. It would have meant never eating a homegrown (by my hands) tomato or leaf of kale again.
And that is one of the differences that I learned between Wellness Heroes and those that give up to the burden of disease. Resiliency. Refusing to take no for an answer, but instead going back and trying again. I'm not saying that MS and other chronic illnesses don't suck or that I don't have bad days. There are bad days.
During these last 18 months, I have learned that it is what we do with the good days that define our lives. Do we sit waiting for the next bad day to come? Or do we make the most of each good day with gusto. Those choosing the latter will tell you. Good and gusto, begets good and gusto.
The other thing my new garden taught me is that a vibrant life requires creativity. I'm not just talking artistic creativity, although that certainly has its place. No, I am talking about being creative in adapting your life so you can continue to do the things you love.
The meetings I talked of earlier can be depressing. Not the people in wheelchairs, but the demeanor of the attendees, even those that are mobile. So often they are dejected. I talk to them and they admit they don't know any other way to be but sad. They have accepted that life won't be any better. Yet, they don't take any action to find joy. They have given up.
That's where creativity comes in. Build 2-ft high beds. Learn to dance in your wheel-chair. Become an inspirational speaker even though you are a quadraplegic. Adapt your activity to your capabilities. We are all capable of rising beyond our limitations. It just takes a little creativity.
Resiliency is not letting external forces get in the way of what we desire. Adaptability is exercising our creativity in a way to make our desires possible.
How have you been resilient? How have you exercised your creativity to adapt life to your needs? Comment below and let us know how you are creating a life of wellness and vitality.
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