If life is like a box of chocolates, my chronic illness journey has not been all gooey caramel centers. I have experienced many coconut bumps, raspberry hurdles, cordial cherry bruises, and just plain dark chocolate downs along the way. This is normal. (No offense to you if the preceding list is all of your favorites. This particular selection for me would warrant tossing the box or giving it to my brother-in-law, who will eat anything). Yes, through the years, I often still found reasons to smile and laugh and even had some good times, but there were also some very low times. Again, I say, this is normal. People need to hear that. So often we hear about those who have been ill or faced a disability and how they never let it get them down, how they were always so positive. Schweenie poo. It’s a lovely sentiment, but it just isn’t true. We all have our downs. What people saw in that positive person was them working through their downs, perhaps even clawing their way through it, with a happy face. But, I guarantee that if you were a creepy peeper, there were times you would have seen that same person behind closed doors with a not-so-happy face struggling with thoughts that weren’t so bright. In fact, if we really think about it, we do not admire these people because they were always “up,” but rather because we know that they had a great-heavy burden weighing them down and they were somehow, at some point, able to rise. The truly inspiring ones even seem to exude an inner wisdom and strength. We seek them out, ask them for advice, read their books, and make movies about them because they have something that we want – the knowledge of how to overcome suffering. Because, once again, we all have burdens, trials, and suffering in our lives. If we could just figure out what these people know then maybe our suffering wouldn’t be so great and life would be better.
There is an idea in many spiritual circles that once we understand suffering, then we will no longer suffer. I had come to a point many times where I accepted that I would suffer, but I still didn’t understand the suffering and found myself asking, “Why?.” Just ignoring the suffering or engaging in instant gratification delights sometimes worked for a little while, but I’d wind up right back in my coconut filled hole, pondering the meaning of life. I knew I wasn’t learning from this experience, at least not enough, and I wanted to. I’d seek out information from the “greats” but still wouldn’t get it. I’d have moments where I’d literally
cry scream out to God and the universe (and probably a few neighbors who already think I’m crazy), “What am I supposed to learn from this?! I’m not getting it! Would you just show me already so I can move past this suffering?.” As I said, I wasn’t getting it. Life lost its luster and my days felt dull. It was in this dullness that I realized that I no longer felt passion or excitement for life. However, I didn’t know how to overcome this. It seemed that in my altered physical state, my pain, fatigue, and other symptoms wouldn’t allow me to participate in the interesting things in life. I could still see the chocolates with the gooey caramel fillings, but I could no longer eat them. I felt lied to by the message that I grew up with- that, “You can do anything you put your mind to.” Sure, this type of thinking has encouraged many great feats, but I now knew moxie could only accomplish so much.
Enter Eleanor Roosevelt. Yes, my Schweenie puppy. You remember her, right? Of course. There’s no forgetting that adorable fluff ball. If you read Chronically Rediscovered Chapter Three, then you also remember that she inspired me to read a book written by The First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living. In the book, Roosevelt says:
For curiosity, interest, and a longing to know more and more types of experiences are the qualities that stimulate a desire to know about life and to understand it. They provide the zest that make it possible to meet any situation as an adventure. Without that spirit of adventure, life can be a dull business. With it, there is no situation, however limiting, physically or economically, which cannot be filled to the brim with interest. Indeed, without interest, it is almost impossible to continue to learn; certainly, it is impossible to continue to grow. (You Learn by Living; Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, p. 13).
Huh, maybe God was throwing me a bone after-all. Perhaps I should have gotten a dog sooner. The First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt definitely had that exuding wisdom thing down. My Schweenie’s got a lot to live up to. Right now she’s in the back yard digging up dead worms to eat, so I’d say she’s well on her way. Not even four months old and digging up worms. Dead ones. And eating them. I doubt the First Lady was digging up dead worms to eat at four months old.
So, I knew I needed to learn and grow and I knew I wanted life to be shiny again. To accomplish this, Eleanor Roosevelt was telling me that I needed to find interests. But what interests? We already discussed that the caramel-filled chocolates were out of reach. What is there to do but read on? Just a couple pages later, Roosevelt says:
All you need to do is to be curious, receptive, eager for experience. And there’s one strange thing: when you are genuinely interested in one thing, it will always lead to something else. (You Learn by Living; Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, p. 15).
Unfortunately that’s part of the problem – my lack of genuine interest. Roosevelt says you don’t need to look for interesting things in life because one will just lead to another. But, I needed one to start. What’s a girl to do? I decided to focus on the other part of the suggestion: to be curious. Sure, my days were limited. I spend most of them in my house, but there had to be something that would come my way that I could learn more about. And there was.
I decided to start embracing things unfiltered. Usually I’m so aware of my spoons and limited usable time that I wouldn’t be open to such a use of my resources, but I decided to look at this experiment as an investment and leap in with both feet. Luckily the internet exists to make this process much easier. I’d read a post on Facebook about something I knew very little about and would usually have no interest in, but instead of scrolling past, I’d ask more or look it up. One of my cousins was sick and I jokingly told her that she should make a hot-toddy. Then I realized that I had no idea what was in a hot-toddy, so I looked it up. I think you’re getting the picture. No, not everything that came my way was “interesting,” but my curiosity did pay off in that one topic did lead to another and a path of interesting possibilities began to open-up. As I mentioned in Chapter Three, around this time I also discovered Pinterest. Pinterest is wonderful for this chain of curiosity. Put a pin in that tidbit because we’ll return to it soon.
Roosevelt also discusses surrounding oneself with beauty to spark curiosity and the imagination. She actually directs this suggestion toward mothers to help educate their children. (I’d like to think that if she were writing today she would be directing this comment at both genders). In many ways I am like a child again, born into this chronic illness life and trying to learn what the rules are. Roosevelt mentions that French children can’t help but be inspired, at least subconsciously, “…being surrounded by the things of the past, palaces of bygone kings, statues, remembrances of history.” (p. 19). I knew I wasn’t going to be able to put a statuary in my back-yard, but I could bring some beauty to the everyday things in my life. Which brings us back to Pinterest. Besides housing a wealth of beautiful pictures that you can allow to soak into your subconscious, it also has some stellar ideas for beautifying the little things.
While perusing some of my friends’ boards, I came across this picture using Mason jars to help organize items in the home. The picture wasn’t readily labeled, but a few clicks later, I at least had a list of materials: wall molding, hose clamps, and Mason jars. I had some Mason jars left over from a Christmas present I received (thanks Beth!). But, what the heck were hose clamps?
I showed the picture to my husband, Mike, who immediately said, “I can do that.”
I then read off the list of the materials. Mike: “Yeah…” followed by a look of, “why are you telling me something so obvious?”
Me: “You know what hose clamps are?”
Me: “You know where to buy hose clamps?”
Mike: “Yeah. Home Depot.”
Boys are cool.
So a few drives to Home Depot and some spoons later our scary utensil drawer went from this:
To this (we also made a removable matching divider for inside the drawer):
And the result? I do find it beautiful. I like the leaf pattern and curves of the wall molding, and the fact that when you open the drawer, you have an organized space, which is visually pleasing, with the added surprise of the matching molding.
And the moral of this story? No, I haven’t discovered the meaning of life and I can’t tell you definitively why people suffer. But, I have rediscovered my curiosity and my kitchen is not so coconut-filled and dull. Perhaps if I keep following this chain of curiosity, I can learn, grow, and ease some of life’s burdens.
May you too find something curiously beautiful today.
Thank you for reading!
Related Articles From This Site:
Find out why I started reading a book by Eleanor Roosevelt in Chronically Rediscovered Chapter Three: Crashing into Inspiration and Lasik Eye Surgery.
Luckily I still had some spoons to put in those Mason jars! Read Spoon Thief: A Humorous Poem Based on the Spoon Theory, an Explanation of Chronic Conditions to find out where my other spoons have gone.
Medication side-effects can add to the emotional difficulties of Chronic Illness. My Keppra for my seizures particularly has this effect. Check out Keppra- Grape Flavored Brain Drain and Mood Swings in a Bottle.
Related Articles From Other Sites:
- In Wow! Really? another woman with a challenged digestive tract discusses her challenges baking in My Crappy Colon Chronicles (http://mycrazycolon.wordpress.com/).
- In the post Agorafabulous on My Stupid Crohn’s (http://mystupidcrohns.wordpress.com/), a working mom with Crohn’s discusses her surprise at an author’s admitted anxiety and her own efforts to hide her illness.
- Brian’s Books (http://brianbassingthwaighte.wordpress.com/) has a quick review posted of My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock. I might have to get this book!