Life lessons from travel and chronic illness
When I was travelling in Africa in my early twenties on a very tight budget (pre-chronic illness), there was no internet to research what to do where, just a trusty guide book (usually a rough guide or a shoestring lonely planet) and the recommendations of other travellers you’d meet in the backpacking hostels or just about anywhere really. It was always really easy to strike up a conversation with a fellow traveller and there were always so many exciting stories told about amazing places visited and amazing experiences had. Unfortunately, back then I found myself paying lots of attention to all the places I couldn’t go to and all the experiences I wasn’t going to have. Although I had an amazing time, I always wanting to go back and do what I missed out on. My early travel experiences were bombarded with the frustration of missing out!
When chronic illness hit the first time and I finally accepted that life had to be lived differently for a while, I went travelling again, this time around South America. This time I knew things had to be done differently and accepted it. I had learned to make the most of each moment and I had the most incredible time. I had discovered some very important wisdom:
What you can’t do is irrelevant if you are enjoying this present moment
More recently, I’ve needed to remind myself of this lesson. My functionality has taken a big hit. It seems to be related to my ferritin levels having dropped so I’m waiting patiently for my supplementation and diet changes to build them back up again. In the meantime, I once again have to accept that life is going to have to be lived differently from even my previous baseline.
There has been lots of frustration with the urges to be able to do what I used to be able to do, but what has really helped has been to ground myself in the present moment and remind myself that what I can’t do right now is irrelevant as long as I choose to enjoy what I can do. It is all about choosing the attitude with which I do things. I could read my trashy novels with an attitude of being resigned to not being able to do anything else, or I can choose to enjoy myself in the moment.
On the rare moments when the sun is shining, I could be resentful that I’m not feeling well enough to go out for a walk or I can choose to enjoy how the light brightens up the room I’m in.
I’ve found it helpful to have a little mental commentary to ground me in enjoyment and appreciation. I tell myself:
I’m really enjoying this e-book right now, I’m really grateful for the author for entertaining me’
‘I’m really enjoying how gentle this Netflix series is, it’s just what I need right now’
‘I’m really enjoying this healthy food’
‘I’m so grateful for those valiant early daffodils for brightening up my world’
Whenever you’re feeling frustrated about what you can’t do, be kind about it, don’t give yourself a hard time for feeling that way, it’s totally understandable, but maybe you could gently remind yourself that what you can’t do is irrelevant as long as you are enjoying this present moment, and see if you can choose to enjoy something that is available to you. It’s really helping me stay sane while I’m able to do very little of what I used to be able to do.
Thinking about it, even if we are completely healthy there is so much that we can never fit into our lives. To pay attention to all of that can only bring us unhappiness. With chronic illness there is just have more we can’t do. But when we can let go of what we can’t do, it’s so much easier to be in the moment and enjoy what we can.
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