“We” Instead of “Me”

Once a week, I get to spend time with a wonderful therapist named Giselle.

I love going to see her, partly because she makes the pain in my body go away, and partly because she is such an amazing person. She has this wonderful combination of positive, enthusiastic energy, while still being incredibly relaxed and laid back.

Each time I go to see her, she is slowly changing my view of health and wellness.

The other day, I was sharing with her how my personal definition of “wellness” leads me to see myself as an unhealthy person, even though I know I have so much to enjoy and be thankful for. The physical limitations I have are not very great, compared to what many people have to live with.

But Giselle told me something that changes everything.

She asked me to imagine a person with some physical challenges, but chooses to faces those difficulties with acceptance and a positive attitude, and surrounding themselves with great relationships and a rich, wonderful life in spite of the pain.

Then she asked me to think of a person without any physical limitations, seeming to be in excellent health, but miserable in every other way, suffering through a horrible job, loss of relationships,  so unhappy that one day, this person commits suicide.

Then she asked me, “Who is the ‘healthier’ person?”

Maybe physical health isn’t quite as important as I’ve thought.

This idea of health simmered in my mind for a few days. Could I consider myself “healthy”, even if I was never able to overcome my physical limitations? Could I let go of the labels I’ve claimed for my life?

In the meantime, we traveled to BC for Ben’s grad, and the speaker at the graduation ceremony was just incredible.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about five years ago, and he had the most amazing attitude I’ve ever seen in someone dealing with physical difficulties.

He talked about the choices he had to make, and decisions regarding how he wanted to live his life despite his diagnosis. And he shared that the most important thing he had learned was this:

“Illness starts with ‘i’, but wellness starts with ‘we’.”

He asked us all to close our eyes, and think about “I”.

Then he asked us to think about “you”.

Finally, he asked us to visualize “we”.

I started out with a picture of myself in my mind, but I ended up thinking about the people beside me, all of us together on that bench. The emotions that come up when I visualized “we” instead of “I” are dramatically different.

I was reminded of Giselle and her definition of health.

And then I remembered how someone once said to me, “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.”

I do not agree with that.

I once read Corrie Ten Boom’s story, and she shared how her mother, unable to get out of bed, would spend her days writing encouraging letters to people. She wasn’t wasting away, useless and depressed. She was doing what she could, which was actually quite a bit.

photo   © 2010   William Arthur Fine Stationery , Flickr

If you haven’t got your health, you’ve still got a whole lot of something. You just need to be willing to give it to others, rather than sitting around feeling sorry for yourself, and thinking about “I, I, I.”

That idea goes far beyond health issues. I think every person out there could gain from “we” instead of “me”.

No matter what my personal challenges might be, there are still countless reasons to be thankful and joyful. There are countless ways to reach out to the people around me.

During our struggle with infertility, I spent years feeling depressed and frustrated because my situation wasn’t changing. I could spend hours praying for myself, begging God to do something new in my life.

All that time, and it turns out that “something new” could have been getting up and doing something useful for another person.

I’ve spent far too much time thinking about “me” instead of “we”!

What is your definition of health or wellness?

What Do You Hope to Gain?

I’ve been asked that question by a number of different people in the weeks leading up to my trip to Mayo Clinic – “What do you hope to gain?”

And then again this morning at my first appointment, after hearing the run-down of my list of health concerns, the doctor asked me, “So what do you hope to gain here at Mayo?”

That is a hard question to answer. After 12 years of dealing with health issues, what do I hope to gain in one week?

I would love a miracle cure that would fix everything – that would give me back the body I had before I first got sick – the body that was a healthy weight, that was a lot stronger and healthier, the body of my college years that felt just fine even after staying up half the night, writing papers and eating an entire bag of Fudgee-o’s in one sitting.

But realistically, I know that’s not possible. And with all that I’ve learned about health, nutrition, and my body, I don’t really want to eat a whole bag of Fudgee-o’s in one sitting. Well…I do, but I don’t.

Anyway. No miracle cure. I’m okay with that.

But what do I hope to gain?

The funny thing is that I realized today that I could go home with no answers, and no changes, and live the exact same life that I had before, and that would be okay. I’ve learned to live with the body I have. Maybe I’ll never eat chocolate again, and maybe I will always have a “high-maintenance” body, but that would be okay. It wouldn’t be ideal, but it could be okay. I’ve learned that life goes on.

I hope to get some answers here, and I hope to go home with some new ideas of how to continue getting healthier and stronger.

But what I didn’t tell the doctor is that one of the things that I truly hoped to gain from coming here has already happened – I’m here.

It’s as though just by coming here, I’ve accomplished something: I’ve faced some fears, and I’ve accepted the journey that I’m on. I never realized just how much that was worth until today.

See, for years, my family has been encouraging me to come here – to take care of myself in this way, and get checked out from top to bottom by a team of doctors who could really help me.

But I always resisted. I had a whole list of reasons as to why I didn’t want to, but the real reason was that I was living in denial.

As silly as it might sound, I realize that I didn’t want to come here because that would be admitting that there is something significantly wrong with my body – wrong enough that I can’t deal with it like every other normal person around me. Only really sick people come to Mayo. If I would come here, it would mean, in my mind, that I was really sick.

As long as I didn’t come, I could pretend that I lived a fairly “normal” life. Whatever “normal” means.

For 12 years, I have wanted a normal life. I have hated my health problems, hated my weakness, and was angry with my body.

But in the last while, something has started to change in me. It’s hard to know exactly what.

I accept this body that I have. Instead of being angry with it, I want to take care of it. Somewhere along the way, as I’ve taken care of it, I’ve begun to accept it’s limitations.

I’ve been able to see the truth of my situation – things are not perfect, but they’re not that bad, either. I have so much to be thankful for. And when I focus on that, it is much easier to be positive, hopeful, and optimistic about the future.

I’ve begun to change in the way that I see myself – instead of seeing myself as weak and sickly, I’ve seen strength growing, and new healthy habits starting to make a difference.

Instead of seeing these last 12 years as “stolen time”, taking away from my quality of life, I’m seeing them as a time of growth and learning. The rest of my life will be better because of this experience.

I wouldn’t trade it or change it.

And that’s the first time that I’ve been able to say that.

I’m not bitter anymore. I know that I still have messed up thoughts and emotions buried down deep somewhere that I’ll have to deal with, but something’s changing.

I am on a journey, and I accept that. I can even enjoy it.

I’m here. I’ve already gained a lot.