Don’t get me wrong, no one likes those cute pictures of cats hanging from a branch with the words HANG IN THERE in nice big bold letters more than me. I am an animal lover and a nature lover, so if you put a nice little message at the bottom of almost anything cute, sweet, pretty or beautiful I will instinctively smile. I have read more bumper stickers and self help books in my time than I have had hot dinners! We all look for the magic message that will pull us out of a painful moment or shine some reason on a difficult time… but it all turns into so much dross when you are in the middle of a relapse, a painful flare, when you cant walk, when you definitely cant see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
It felt as though all those sweet little hallmark moments and verses were for the able bodied and healthy to pass around to each other and it had some sort of placebo, euphoric, calm inducing quality which got them back on their way again and had some magical restorative quality. The internet is like a vending machine spewing forth these little tag lines and snippets for those who may have just lost the sporting final or recently broken up relationships; and more amazingly is that it seems to work. There are even people who collect them and can spew them out with amazing speed and occasional sincerity. (blush) I was even one of them.
Today is different. Today I am different. Its different because I notice that most of those inspirational quotes are said by healthy people who, to my knowledge, have never faced chronic illnesses or a lifetime of pain and disability. There are very few bumper stickers that cover moments like this. Although sometimes someone will try and slip in a “HANG IN THERE” kitty or two… I smile and ignore them.
Once you have had a life changing health condition, disability, disease or diagnosis it changes the game completely and no bumper sticker will ever make it go away. No amount of ‘stay strong’ and ‘turn that frown upside down’ is going to help you during the most painful, heartbreaking and dehumanizing moments of your life. The thing that a lot of those quotes and slogans rely on is that the beneficiary of these positive little mantra’s still have a working body to put those words into affect. A lot of our identity as human beings are entrenched in our feelings, our minds, and our bodies all working together to help us through difficult times. Take away any of these and it is a struggle to absorb those little snippets of wisdom with good graces and joyful appreciation. For anyone in those situations the kindest thing the able bodied / healthy can do is acknowledge that they do not understand the struggle and that they would like to support us as we go through the difficulties which lie ahead; and there will be plenty of those.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that there is NOTHING positive left for those of us touched by serious health challenges / disability or Chronic pain or illness. Not at all. There are some very real positives but they are not the type that will ever be found in the bottom of a fortune cookie or inside inspirational office emails. The positives are the very little things, the simple things, the “…things that the every folk leave behind…” [Wombel reference]. We see the little things differently. We feel them so acutely. The smells. The touches. The smiles. The ability to sleep. The ability to eat. The ability to see. The ability to move. The ability to laugh. The chance to see your loved ones happy and to hold them in your arms and to even stay alive for them.
I am also one of those people who find it very positive in speaking my truth and acknowledging the good times and the difficult times without dwelling too long in either. I embrace the realities of life instead of denying them. I am humbled by some of the lessons that I have learnt and the humanity I have encountered along the way. I am touched by the courage I have witnessed and the way in which those who fight the hardest are often the least remembered and rarely noticed. While the world focuses on the rich, the famous, the athletic, the healthy, the shocking and the cruel, our positivity comes from no longer being bound or infatuated by these things. I feel relieved in many ways that I do not spend my life obsessing over the superficial things and I get to share and support the people that face some of the hardest fights every day of their lives; and there is something very positive about that. Something very rewarding about that; even from a wheelchair or bedside. We learn to find our own words of inspiration our own wisdom and our own comforting thoughts when we need them the most. And the kittens are real ones that bring the most comfort and encouragement.
Over the years I have found new and different ways to understand the human condition and what makes up life and what counts in life. I have had to learn to redefine myself and make a peace with my body; well almost. Like any new relationship we have growing pains. We fight. We bicker. We hurt. We have even broken up many times and we will need to go through couples counseling many, many times. And the MOST positive part of all. I know myself and the people I share my life with better than I would have, and better than I ever could have before my body changed forever… and for me THAT is very positive.