Chronic Snarkopolist: Finding Beauty In Chronic Illness… The Snarkopolist Way
Hello my loves!
Once when I was an inpatient at a brand name hospital for an extended period of time I met many “famous” doctors. None of them got to know me. I was a patient with a number and a private bed.
Meanwhile – a beautiful woman who was a housekeeping lady came by every day and cleaned my room. I met Inga’s face every day and looked her in the eyes – because I did not find her career shameful. I found her a human with a job. And every human has story. I love stories. Stories heal us and make us whole. She always smiled at me and I at her.
Finally one day Inga set her garbage pail down and said, “This is not who I really am. In my old country I am more important.”
And I said, “This is not who I am either. In my classroom I am more important as well.”
We both looked at each other and understood. In all of life – we are both MORE and LESS than everything around us. And it takes EACH OTHER to build each other up and give that nudge of recognition. Through each other we stop time and surrender ourselves – listening and telling our stories – healing the increasing woundedness of life. We heal each other simply by being TRULY PRESENT in each other’s lives.
It is simple. We either RECOGNIZE each other or we REFUSE each other. By recognizing your beauty or your greatness of spirit I give you untold gifts. By refusing your ability to grow or change or be different – I obliterate you. I render you NOTHING.
Every lunch hour Inga came and ate her lunch with me. She taught me her native languages. She never had to talk about what it felt like to be considered “unworthy” or “in a less than noble profession.” Nurses walked past her “housecleaning” colored hospital-ware without acknowledging her. Sometimes one might look at her sharply as though she might somehow sully or disturb me. And yet, they would walk right past me with much the same attitude unless they needed to check my “vitals” or give me medications.
Doctors made their rounds but at this particular hospital I was not worth teaching anyone anything I suppose because the medical students looked bored and restless. Unless my temperature went up or my dialysis did not go well or my eeg’s came back with less than positive information or some blood work showed up badly, I was someone who did not matter. To everyone but my then husband and the hospital housekeeper – I was an invisible person with just test results to show as an identity. On her days off I missed Inga terribly and the days would go by even more slowly than usual.
I was hooked to many monitors and equipment and Inga never made that an issue. I learned her languages as fast as I could so she would see that I made an effort – she mattered. I know she was an attorney in her old country and I heard about the painful loss of her husband and her own struggle with illness. Garbage duty did not make her less than important to me. Garbage duty made her MORE valuable to me because she was humbling herself in order to have a life somewhere safer than her old country. I wanted her to see my respect for her. I wanted her to see and be seen. We both reacted to each other like magnets. She respected me as more than my test results. She gave me her time – she SAW me and made me VISIBLE. She HEALED ME. I am still more in my heart because of her.
I’m struggling right now to make sense of being sick. Some days it goes like that. This week has been like that even more. The people I love most in all the world including my father are terribly ill. Even my beloved doggie is now sick. And I’m left with my beautiful chronically ill friends to bolster me and I them. We are each other’s rocks.
I look around and wonder- why is it that I love these people and yet THEIR being sick never shakes me half so much as my own daddy? Why does my own health bother me but not so much as my dog? Why?
I can make no sense of it. Perhaps being sick is something we have grown numb or resigned to?
And the last few days I’ve been feeling less lively and less chipper and so I am re-grouping and realizing that there are gifts to be found in my illness. THERE ARE GIFTS in this- just as there are gifts in being alone in a hospital when a wonderful housekeeper renders me VISIBLE and ALIVE. I have forgotten how many gifts I have been given. When we are blind to our own joys they cannot be counted. And so I wanted to write about it.
When we feel good it is easy to laugh. When we feel unwell it is easy to describe it-wallow in it miserably even. But some days I like to go deep inside and remember how completely and profoundly my life has changed. And with these changes I have opened myself to the kindness of people.
My very first experience in this discovery was with my G/I doctor. My life was shattering, I felt myself being sucked into the earth, like quicksand. And I said, “Please hold my hand” to a nearby nurse, just as I was about to go under for anesthesia. And all the nurses were busy and my G/I doctor looked over and said, “I will hold your hand.” And in so doing I felt a short but comforting feeling that if a doctor who was busy could be arsed to comfort a hysterical patient then perhaps there was love left in the world.
Actually- I am making words in retrospect. What happened for me was that a blanket of love and comfort spread over me – and I felt that the divorce would be ok and that I would be ok and that all my health issues would be handled. When I awoke I felt comforted still and wrapped in a blanket of love and humanity. I still go to this doctor because I see her a doctor who works from her heart. And I carry that idea that “things will be ok” with me all the time. She healed me just a little bit that day. Sometimes there is more to health and wholeness than a good blood test.
I cannot even begin to describe all the subsequent ways people have been kind to me- but I know that I myself CANNOT be a good or kind person without opening myself to the kindness of others. And in my deepest vulnerabilities of being sick – I am my most open to receiving the love and generosity and acceptance of OTHER PEOPLE. This is basic humanity at work.
No no – I do not WISH to LEARN humanity this way through illness and medical complications and the kindness of strangers. I prefer to just know it – get it – like I got through college – wiz bang. “Where are my pluses?” “Where are my bonus points?” I am at my core a scholar… and yet being a scholar never made me truly WISE. It simply made me a hoarder of KNOWLEDGE. But you cannot apply knowledge into GENUINE HUMAN CONNECTION and therein lie the gifts of being ill, or of being a caretaker, and of loss, of grief, and of recovering our strength.
Yet – I will say this – as I open more to accepting other people I accept myself. A woman who I studied eastern healing with once said to me, “When will Melissa be enough for herself?” I never understood her words. I was driven. I have always been driven. I got my first faculty appointment at a large southeastern university in the late 90’s. It was not enough. I wanted another graduate degree and I wanted more publications and more of everything that I thought MADE ME MELISSA.
And one day – after I was sick – I could no longer compete at that top level – and I had to STOP. Then, slowly – through PEOPLE and not through my own ACTIONS my life had more meaning. I stopped striving for doing more and started actually LISTENING to other people’s stories. I HEARD people. I FEEL HEALED by their triumphs and fears and joys. I stopped YEARNING and STRIVING to be more and started allowing myself to feel what I feel right now.
I’m telling you this because THIS is exactly what is in my heart RIGHT THIS MOMENT. Some days it is sad and other days it is preposterous. And right now I seek MEANING in my own illness. I seek MEANING that I matter.
We all do – we all matter. Our very existence is proof of our power. Yet – I know that without my ability to stop and CARE ABOUT YOU I can never accept your love either. I am endlessly fascinated how life is so balanced, truly balanced.
How do we find our specialness? How do we find our beauty and our genuine ability to be kind and love? Even if we suffer and hurt – how do we reach out and give compassion to others in a way that is REJUVINATING and positive (rather than draining) to our selves?
Right now I’m finding a balance in this. I use the telephone and online arenas to support my chronically ill friends. I have healthy friends too – and we talk and love each other. We give and receive love. We grieve our losses and express our pain and fear. And sometimes we take turns crying to each other. None of this is draining and all of this is life affirming to me!
Sometimes a text is enough. “I love you so much – you have made my life better just by knowing you.” That’s a pretty bolstering statement. It doesn’t break my thumbs to write it. And yet there is TRUTH in it for the woman to whom I write it.
Who would think even two years ago that I would seek MEANING in my illness?! Yet that is exactly what I am doing. I find meaning in the companionship of a beautiful hospital housekeeper who gave me so much of her generous spirit and her memories and time. I find meaning in my heart that bubbles over with love and pride at my friends who go to college even through the fatigue and pain of their illnesses. I am in awe of my friends who parent their children through illnesses and who stand by their spouses when their whole worlds are crumbling in pain. Their courage and spirits are amazing to me.
For every man and woman who takes their illness into their body and owns it as a part of their life – and carries it as part of them – giving more of their love to others – refusing to blame or judge others for it – those people are my heroes. Those people give my life MEANING. Doctors who are kind and compassionate; People who create outlets for support and healing; Sick people who reach out with love and compassion to the newly diagnosed—all of these people give my life meaning.
Because if these people exist – it shows that COMPASSION still exists in the world. Like a pinball game – this compassion bounces back and forth – saving us one at a time – from ourselves, from self-pity, from bitterness and despair. It gives my life MEANING because I can do this too. I can LOVE AND BE LOVED! It makes me matter. It gives me HOPE! And right now I need hope.
What about you? What do you need in your life? What speaks to you? What gives you meaning? What has illness come to mean to you? What doctors have reached into your hearts and stopped time for you? What people have rendered you speechless by their acts of courage and bravery? How has your illness changed your way of thinking and living life? Do you speak up more? Do you calm down faster? Do you think of yourself as SPECIAL? Do you say so?
Tell me – on this day when I am seeking MEANING in my own and others struggle and illness – what meanings have YOU found? I’m interested. I want your stories, your truths. How has your life changed? Are you happier? Are you a better person now? Are you more familiar with your truths? I’m so interested in hearing more from you.
I’ll be seeing you next week! Same time same place! Kisses!
Tags: chronic conditions affecting self esteem, chronic illness, chronic illness impacting quality of life, Chronic Snarkopolist written by Melissa Eckert, finding beauty in sickness, learning to live with chronic illness, managing chronic illness, reinventing yourself while being chronically ill