In times of illness, particularly prolonged illnesses, people often have a difficult time adjusting to the significant changes we experience in our lives. Old familiar habits and rituals that shape our daily routines often become more challenging. The inability to do something as well as before (or not at all) has the potential to zap hope and add to a feeling of despair.
Generally, when we are ill, our energy levels decrease. Sometimes this is hard to accept. We may be used to, consciously or unconsciously, equating our productivity and energy level with our personal worth. Even though we are learning ways to adapt that help to maintain our health (making previously “simple” tasks, doable), we may still feel frustrated and disappointed that we cannot to live up to our image of who we were before the illness. We may judge ourselves harshly, questioning that we lost our “work ethic” because we no longer perform at our previously high standard. We may compare ourselves with others, feeling guilty that because we need to attend to our illness (need to rest more, attend to side effects of medications that affect the way we think, feel, or move), we haven’t “accomplished” much. This thinking can result in our overextending ourselves when we are just not able, inhibiting both the healing process and living healthfully.
It is during these times that we are wise to readjust our focus. Accept what our capabilities are at this time and figure out what we need to do now. The question is not one of self-definition, “Who have I become?” But rather, one of self-assessment, “Given what I am facing now, what can I do or not do?” When we compare our self to others, or to what we capable of, we can observe, just take notice. It is important to resist becoming entangled in a downward cycle of despair and regret. We can stop our self and tell our self that for now, there is a new standard and we can learn to adapt as we meet it. This awareness of where we are at this moment helps us to accept and adapt while keeping our sense of self intact. We focus on what our strengths are, and what remains and can improve, rather than what is gone. Such self-acceptance can lead us to feel a significant relief of pressure and a renewed sense of gratitude, contentment, and hope.
Illness is about adaptation to change and acceptance. Along the way, there is an opportunity for spiritual growth. A spiritual journey during illness can begin with simply noticing the feelings that come up when we think of not being able to work or accomplish projects because of our illness. Are we comparing our self to others, whether or not they, too, are ill? Do we view our personal worth as diminished as a result of these comparisons? When we focus on healing and doing what is necessary to find our spiritual center we are more likely to notice an inner resilience and strength that we may not have been aware of before.