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Finding Meaning

June 20, 2016

I have been thinking about finding meaning when one has a chronic illness a lot lately, although finding meaning is something that most people think about, whether they are ill or not. I don’t have any answers, but here is my latest train of thought.

The end of my long-term relationship has brought the “meaning issue” back to the front burner for me as well, which is a good thing.  I think that sometimes being in a relationship can create an environment of false-meaning or what I like to call “living in a bubble”, or at least it did for me. Fixing up our house, taking care of each other, growing my partner’s business, taking care of our dogs – all of these things gave me meaning, and they were very meaningful in the end. But they were also very focused on just us, not others, and not us as individuals. What do I need and want? The difficult ending of my relationship has also challenged my faith in myself, people and the rest of the world out there. Especially since I lost my own identity in my relationship, as many of us do.

But where to begin? I can say that just trying to work 20 hours a week right now is a draining experience. Should I try to find a job that has more meaning, so I can kill two birds with one stone? I had a job in animal rescue in my late 20’s, early 30’s and working in that industry was pretty rewarding AND draining in and of itself – nonprofit burnout. Adding extra hours to the workweek in the form of volunteer hours is also demanding. That’s the avenue I’ve been traveling lately, and I feel like I’m mostly letting down the people I am volunteering for. Whether I am or not, it’s difficult to be consistent when you are struggling to put in your hours at your regular gig.

Maybe “finding meaning” isn’t really about putting hours into an organization. Maybe I need to expand my universe a bit here and figure out what really gives me meaning personally. I can imagine that questions like these are really based on who is asking, so the solutions are as diverse as we are. I have been in a really dark place lately with my life, wondering what the point to all of this pain is, especially when I’m so lonely and too sick to visit friends and family very often. I probably just need a tiny glimmer of light to lead me out of my dark place. I know these thoughts aren’t revolutionary, I’ve thought these things many times in the past, but maybe it’s good to look into them again

I should be happy that I’m simply alive.

This is an oldie but a goodie. Recently I fancied the thought that I’d like to give my remaining years to someone who is dying and could really use them productively and happily. Why do some of us with incredible lives die too young, and others of us live longer with constant pain and suffering? Well that’s just life, so I should focus on being productive and happy myself, instead of on some stupid hypothetical. Being able to ask the question about giving my life meaning is meaningful. Having a computer to be able to type these words is wonderful. Having a roof over my head, food to eat, people who love me – these things are a true gift.  There hasn’t been a me before, and there will never be a me again. That’s gotta mean something??!! When I’ve heard these words before, I’ve thought, “Yeah, but try that when you’re in pain 24/7.” It’s true that those of us with chronic illness are more challenged by these ideas, but maybe their simplicity is the key here. It only takes a second and no money or training to switch your thoughts from “I’m in too much pain to be be happy I’m simply alive” to “I’m happy to be alive in this moment.” And then work on the next moment.  Just like the “beginner’s mind” in meditation, there is no destination or expertise here; just try to feel better from one moment to the next, and then start all over again.

Simplifying my life and thoughts may give me more meaning.

If I can work on blocking out the noise and things that don’t really make a huge difference to me personally (politics?), I may be able to focus on what really matters in life. So much of my unhappiness may just be my mind ruminating on what’s wrong instead of what’s right. Focusing on little things – getting outside for a walk, making myself something healthy to eat, making my dogs happy, calling my mom – that’s where I want to spend my limited energy.  Recently I cut way back on my FaceBook usage, and although I really enjoy connecting with people there, since it’s difficult to be social when you’re this sick, I think FB was somehow doing me more harm than good. There are wonderful stories there (plus all of the happy dog videos), but there’s a lot of pettiness and a lot of hate too. I have always been attracted to the simplicity movement. All of the stuff we accumulate in our lifetime is just stuff to be thrown away. I want to live with a lot less, and I need to due to a sharp decrease in income. I want to live with less stuff, less noise, less space and less stress.

Live in the moment.

There’s a cliche for you! But it’s rather simple. The past is gone. It’s not forgotten, but it certainly can’t be changed. The future isn’t here yet. We can make plans, but we can’t worry about things that have not happened and may never happen. Making plans according to our past experiences is smart. Obsessing about the past and future is stupid. This moment and then the next are the only reality we have anyway. If you fail to remember this, guess what? In the next moment, you can try again.

I know I have gone full circle from getting meaning from helping others to helping myself, but there is that rule we all hear every time we get on an airplane – “Put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on someone else.” I know what you’re thinking. It’s impossible to think about these grander issues when all of my effort goes to getting out of bed, making that next doctor’s appointment or holding onto a job that I desperately need. I get it. I have been there, and I’m still there. All I’m saying is that I’d like to start to have a bit of focus in my life. It’s not fair that everything is more difficult for us, but life isn’t fair. Starting from that point, how can I make this unfair life a little better?

It’s not going to be worrying about who the next president is, or why the government is taking away my much needed medication (although I will keep advocating). It’s going to be really honing in and focusing on what really matters in my little day-to-day life, which for now, is the little things. Making my dogs happy, working one more hour today, learning a new skill that will help me get some bookkeeping work that I can do from home, living with less.  The second and third things aren’t really what I want to be focusing on with a chronic illness – we should be able to focus on being as well as possible – but that’s just not my reality. Having enough money to pay my mortgage and go to an alternative doctor is going to contribute to my piece of mind as well. Not everything is about the meaning of life and reaching nirvana. But who knows?  Maybe in the next moment those things will become my new focus.  Stay positive people!



From → #migraine

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