Chronic Snarkopolist: Do We Live a Meaningful Life or Make Meaning? Playing the Cards We are Dealt
A brilliant woman tonight prompted me to consider the difference between living a meaningful life versus finding meaning in my life even through suffering and illness. It is something for me to ponder this.
For her- she said, “I find no meaning in watching a child suffer.” And I responded, “I don’t think WE are supposed to find meaning in OTHER PEOPLE’S suffering. I think we are to find it in our own if we can.” We began a dialogue about the difference between living a meaningful life versus finding meaning.
I wonder – truly wonder – if we cannot do both. Sometimes I feel like a failure when feel I’m not finding enough meaning. When everything is sucking and the tidal wave is crashing overhead. Times like that I just curl up and shake my fist at the notion that there can be meaning in illness. I do however feel GRATEFUL every day of my life for more things than I say aloud.
I believe it is HARMFUL to push the notion of “finding gratitude or meaning” on other people. It puts pressure on people that they should suddenly start making meaning out of horrific suffering when they are simply trying to survive. My goodness – surviving sometimes means numbing yourself and holding on to the log and putting one foot in front of the other and just being as kind as you can and doing no harm and breathing in and out and in and out. And sometimes that is all you can do for a while. Fuck meaning – sometimes surviving is about counting down between the next wave of pain and nausea. I’ve learned sometimes about riding the waves – and sometimes I’m better at it than at others.
Sometimes we have learned biofeedback or navigation and meditation and can find pain without suffering. Or we shove the noise down. Or it becomes a louse fucking white noise static. Or we can just walk through it like walking on hot coals. If you keep walking and don’t put your feet down on hot coals you can keep going. And there is not time for “making meaning” during those times, but you can’t sit around and judge it – JUST KEEP GOING. KEEP WALKING THROUGH THE HEAT- GO- JUST GET THROUGH ILLNESS!!! “We’ll make meaning later you tell yourself – just survive, just get through it.”
I have read many authors who discuss finding gifts and meanings. It is NOT MY JOB to determine whom and when and where or how people find theirs or do not. I myself don’t feel my illness is a gift. I find it damaging to use such language as an expectation that others do – but FINE to use it as a personal lived experience. Lived experiences are lovely- but people should never tap their toes waiting for the glowing patient reviews from OTHERS. What is true for me may not be true for anyone else. If I am always cranky or always happy may not be true for anyone else. It is never fair for expectations to cross over. Though I will say that most of us on DT have found an wonderful healing community reaching out and sharing. And for this it is important to keep reaching out and reaching back. THIS is what I WANT and NEED in my life.
I believe in finding the gift in the hit the way in martial arts if you take a blow and it knocks the wind out of you your master will say, “what is the gift in this hit?” And you will suck air for a second till you catch your breath again. And then you will stand up. And you will rethink and realize that you did not have the right pose or the right posture or you were not standing wide enough. There are many such gifts in many “hits” in life. But again – these are not “offerings” so much as sometimes learning to say, “what is the gift in illness?” The “gift” might be unseen right now. I am finding many friends, colleagues, research interests. I am able to act as a patient advocate, I can seek out great medical care and call bullshit on bad care BECAUSE I have navigated the system so long. These are not “offerings” but gifts in the hit.
My family who have reached out to me who have taken care of my needs or difficulties, my friends who have driven me to appointments or helped with food or laundry, my sweeties who used to come and snuggle with me or carry in my groceries in Atlanta– THOSE PEOPLE are my fucking heroes. Those are my fucking gifts in this hit. Those are the people I feel are helping me see beauty in the sucking scum. Those are where I make meaning.
It is easy to count up the nameless immeasurable losses – so I won’t. But trust me when I say- it MATTERS to me when people are kind to me. I NOTICE THE KINDNESS as though it is under a microscope because kindness is amplified when you’re sick. And such times make MEANING FOR ME.
So yes – I suppose I am both living a meaningful life AND finding meaning (after the fact in most cases). I do NOT expect a sick person (especially newly diagnosed) – to run off to the stage and start being funny. Nor do I expect them to start finding ways to be grateful or make life count. But the fact of the matter is – NONE OF US GETS OFF HERE ALIVE.
Everyone’s life is limited. If we are lucky we die peacefully and happily in our sleep surrounded by our great grandchildren. But most of us will face illness and untold suffering – and in that untold suffering most of us will learn to play the cards we are dealt.
I’m so glad I had to reflect on this. I’m still pondering. Maybe as I go through life more and see more and find walk through more fire- I will find even MORE meaning and ways to live a meaningful life.
What do you think? Am I full of shit? Do you live a meaningful life or is the meaning already planned? Is it worth it? Or do you just put one foot in front of the other and walk day by day? Or all of the above? Is it sometimes easier to do one than the other? The wise woman I spoke with found no meaning in illness but DID think you can live a meaningful life – so there are many perspectives. What do you think? Tell me! I must know!
I’ll be back same time next week! Kiss kiss!
Tags: finding support for chronic illness, knowing yourself before illness, lessons from illness, living with chronic conditions, managing chronic autoimmune conditions, sickness and health, sickness as a gift, was your disease a gift, what did you learn from your disease