Consider all that makes up your life. The family members, where you live, relationships, career, spiritual practice and your health to name a few. Add all of those together and you get your own secret sauce called Your Life.
And try as we may to separate these categories (How could your Hashimoto’s disease be related to your job as a teacher for example) I encourage you to consider at least while reading this, that it is all the same. We can use illness as much as anything else to help us lift. The real secret ingredient for my secret sauce however is actively managing my relationship to what makes up my life rather than managing my life.
Bridget is a 35 year old mother of two. She recently has been plagued with crippling migraines, joint stiffness and vision problems, but has largely ignored those symptoms because she is healthy and too busy to go to her doctor and get it checked out. She attributed her new symptoms as “getting older” and stress of trying to juggle her life. Bridget also volunteers at church and her kid’s school, has a loving husband, supportive community and a very full life! She works as a school administrator 40 hours a week. Her family eats a mostly organic diet and she takes vitamins daily. One day coming home from work, she was hit by a drunk driver. She was airlifted to the nearest trauma unit with suspected head injuries. While in the hospital, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor when the ER ordered a MRI for her car accident. Her doctors also diagnosed her with Lupus after doing blood work related to her accident. She was scheduled to started chemotherapy and radiation one week after her accident.
Now, I want you to finish the end of her story. Think about this. Do you make an assumption that her life has taken a wrong turn, bad luck, disaster? Do you feel sorry for this woman and wonder if she will survive? Do you think, “I am glad this wasn’t me”? I would also like to bring up another point to consider here. This may be the best thing to have happened to Bridget in her life. We have collectively labeled cancer, autoimmune disease and struggle as hard, bad and negative. But, I think that underneath all of that, we have been given the opportunity to change the assumptions we may have made up about life. Autoimmune disease calls us to attention so thoroughly about where we have placed our thoughts about our life, that I consider it a very clearly marked gift and opportunity to let our hearts grow into a more abundant life. To trust that life is unfolding for our upliftment and what comes present is a grace-laden path we can choose to fight against or cooperate with.
Here is the rest of the story about Bridget:
Bridget fell into a deep depression. She was confused and scared. She was having trouble understanding how her life could change in a instant and what her outcome may be. She felt overwhelmed by all the decisions she had to make in such a short period of time while also trying to recover from the concussion she had in the accident. She spent quite a few weeks crying and sad, overwhelmed and scared. But, her doctor suggested a local therapist for her to see to help her through these normal feelings and she decided to go. After a few months of working with the counselor, talking about her circumstances, and sitting quietly in reflection, she decided that she would cooperate with her circumstances. That was her first step; trusting her life. A pivotal moment. At first saying she trusted her life did not make sense to her. Trusting lupus? Trusting cancer? No, those were the enemy. But, at the urging of her therapist, she kept up with this new idea. It was as simple as saying “I trust my life” to herself when she started feeling doubt creep in. Sometimes she would say “I trust my life” 100 times a day because doubt crept in a lot. And, when she thought about her lupus, she imagined a big pretty box and when she opened it, lupus was inside with a note to her saying “this is how more loving will come into your life”. The more she did this, the more Bridget would wake up and feel compelled before getting out of bed to think about all she was grateful for. Before she would jump out of bed and start thinking about all the things she had to get done in the day…carpooling, lunches, work, grocery shopping, dentist…now she woke up in the mornings and though about how much she loved her children, how beautiful the birds sounded, what new hairstyle she would have after chemo. She reached out to her family and told them how much she loved them. After all, doctors did not know the outcome of the brain tumor or if it would respond to chemo. Every day she was pushed to an edge of not knowing if she would survive the path she was on, so she used every day to be grateful for what she did have.
She changed her diet after a friend brought a meal for her family and mentioned lupus could be better supported with a low inflammatory diet. She started doing yoga every morning and enrolled in a cancer support group. She let herself cry whenever she felt moved to. She spent more time with her children. Eventually, she finished the chemo and radiation. Her doctors told her the tumor had shrunk, and they would be monitoring her every 6 months to see if it started growing again. She struggled against the ambiguity of not knowing if her cancer would ever come back, but she decided to be at peace with that because when she produced againstness toward her life circumstances, it made her feel depleted and tired. She decided to let each day come and not live in the future or what it may bring. She also continued her yoga practice she started at the beginning of chemo, and decided to do a teacher training. She was eventually certified and started teaching yoga classes for women with autoimmune disease. Although money was tight from her treatments and not being able to work, she and her husband decided it was best if she quit her administrator job. She enrolled in an online program to become a grief counselor. She wanted to help others move through difficult times. She found a open-minded doctor who helped her with her lupus and suggested a special regime of supplements and diet. Her pain reduced. She felt joy in her life she had not felt before, all of it brought on by what she thought was adversity and disease. She eventually was able to say the day she was in the car accident was a day her life changed for the better. It was a day that put her on a path of finding happiness and joy she was not experiencing prior to that day. Her heart had been opened to find joy in a way she had not ever known in her life.
So, as you can see, Bridget was not cured, and was not given an all-clear about her health or her future. Her treatments worked, and she felt better though. Everyday she woke up she decided to enjoy her life. To trust where her life was going, to refrain from judgement about her circumstances. And in that decision, it transformed the way life was showing up for her. Life met her where she was at. Before her accident she was mostly unaware of any amount of gratitude she had in her life. She was just busy trying to be a mom and work. And although after her diagnosis she was still busy trying to be a mom (and even more so because she was sick on top of it) she was tender with herself in a way she had not been before. Small milestones like attending her kids soccer games became a form of loving herself rather than an expectation that she was pressured to do. She found herself letting go of the small things that used to bother her like the neighbors barking dog or the grumpy secretary at her daughter’s school. She started to contribute to her life in a different way after she decided to change how she saw life contributing to her. She saw lupus as an ally to keep her vigilant about love and gratitude toward herself and her circumstances. When that happened, her doctor remarked at how her blood chemistry was looking better than it had before. And so it will go on, and I invite you to finish Bridget’s story. And I invite you to do this with your own as well.
Consider the possibility that your life circumstances are a personal gift for change to usher in more loving. See how that feels in your body when you read that. See if it makes your day any different. I believe it can.