In a book drawn from her experience with chronic fatigue syndrome, author Kat Duff writes about the reorienting power of illness:
Symptoms crack through the hardened facades of “health,” that mesh of habitual attitudes, assumptions, and successful behaviors that can so easily steer us off course from ourselves. Like all intense physical sensations, whether painful or pleasurable, they force the mind back toward feeling and the visceral truths of our immediate experience. When I am bone tired, I cannot pretend to be happy or gracious, nor can I pass as perfectly competent; I am what I am and that is all there is. As a result, the ongoing exhaustion of my illness has slowly undermined my “good girl” persona and perfectionist habits I had learned as a child to steer my way through the land mines of adult psyches, and it has cultivated in me a self-attentiveness I now need in order to survive. I could not say that I have the self-possession of a master…, but I do have the ability to pause and check in with myself while collapsed, and the license to say no to the things I do not want to do, and yes to that which I must do for the survival of my body and soul.
Sometimes I think we would lose ourselves altogether if it were not for our stubborn, irrepressible symptoms, calling us, requiring us, to re-collect ourselves and reorient ourselves to life. The longer I am sick the more I realize that illness is to health what dreams are to waking life–the reminder of what is forgotten, the bigger picture working toward resolution.
(The Alchemy of Illness, 32-33)
– Tommy Grimm
(Image by flickr user Stitch, via Creative Commons)