Chronic

A word about Chronic.

Post-concussion syndrome (or, whatever name they finally end up giving chronic concussion symptoms) is my first first-hand experience with chronic illness.

I’ve witnessed others go through chronic seasons, and as a marriage therapist I worked with a wonderful couple who had been in a relationship with chronic illness for at least 20 years.

I say “relationship” because they referred to the chronic illness as another member of their family.

They deeply loved each other and both longed for healing and for life to resume to the way it had been before Chronic joined their family.

I remember their deep sadness, grief, and anger over dreams deferred, trips cancelled, relationships broken, life dramatically altered.

In some ways, they had spent 20 years waiting for Chronic to move out.

They never intended to live that way, but it sort of crept up on them.

One of them had a health condition that could possibly change someday. Each day, there was still hope for healing, for a medical discovery, for things spontaneously to change. They read the success stories and hoped for the same.

For 20 years.

And they went through the ebbs and flows of hope and despair and everything in between.

For 20 years.

They asked and experientially answered questions like these:

Does embracing life as it is today mean that we have to give up our hopes, dreams, and expectations?

Wouldn’t it be easier to just give up hope and accept this as our lot in life?

Is it necessary to live in the tension that hope brings?

Is there a better way to live with Chronic?

I don’t have the “right” answers. Our family is only in Year 3 of our journey.

I will say that, at the end of each day, the decisions we face are actually quite similar to those you and everyone else does. Sure, the content might change a bit. But, in some ways, we’re the lucky ones.

We are facing our limitations, the frailty of life, and the challenge of living out the universal and paradoxical tension of Acceptance and Hope.

We’re learning how to live out the Serenity Prayer that was framed in my folks’ house…a message echoed in ten thousand other words and myriad messengers throughout the ages.

A message reminding us that, at our root, we are unchanging Awareness or whatever your belief system might call your unchanging state.

A message reminding us that the ever-changing flow of life moves through us and past us, just as the clouds move across the sky.

Yes, we can certainly attempt  to grab on to transient ideas, things, feelings, beliefs, and sensations. And some of us might even get to hold on longer than others. At some point, we fall into grace and realize that we already are and have what we’re looking for.

I’m not sure I really helped the couple I worked with. They expressed that they felt closer to one another, but they were still quite unsettled when they stopped working with me. They despised Chronic and insisted that he leave before they could enjoy life again. I don’t blame them a bit.

Chronic is not someone I would have invited into my home. But, Chronic is here, for now. And like every transient thing that arises in Life – in us – Chronic will pass away. Perhaps not until the body passes, but it will pass away…and it will leave that which is unchanging.

But what are we to while it stays? While the clouds of life hide the sun’s warmth from our skin and light from our eyes?

Hmmmm…

Consider this maxim: That which we welcome cannot bind us.

Another paradox.

If you doubt this maxim, do a quick check-in on those things that have you bitter, wound up, agitated, anxious, jealous, angry, possessive, envious, depressed, etc.

They are likely things you’re either trying to hold onto or get rid of: a feeling, an emotion, a relationship, a belief,  a reputation, a possession, a season of life.

Can we welcome the ever-changing flow of life to both come and go?

I am learning that an essential part of my growing and maturing in life is to welcome Chronic as I welcome all else that arises.

As I do, I can be guided by the wisdom that comes from this dual  “letting go” and “settling into” who and what I am and always will be.

Wisdom that shows up right here and right now.

Wisdom that leads to responsive action rather than resignation or fantisization.

Wisdom that leads to realization – a full awareness of what really is, not what we wish it to be or not to be.

This takes work. It takes discipline. It take openness. It takes practice. It takes community. And it takes practice in community.

My hope for us all is that, whatever our circumstances, we engage in the work to embrace life today, that we allow Life to live us as we learn to be fully present and fully alive.