Grief comes not just when one dies, but when one’s life, as they know it dies.
I lost the life I knew when I was 18.
I was almost ready to leave home to study history at the University of Reading, England. It was summer, and I was at a camp, volunteering when I came down with something that felt like the flu. I was feverish and exhausted and, after the sunny days on an animal sanctuary in Kent, it felt like perhaps I’d overdosed on sunlight.
In that moment, so full of light and youth, something shifted and I entered a new world: one of pain and internal awareness.
Parts of me I’d never known began to hurt. And it was the beginning of an intimate knowledge of my body and my own life.
Later, I was diagnosed with a long list of chronic illnesses, autoimmune conditions. Everything from my toe joints to my hypothalamus had struggles.
I learned to survive, to navigate this strange new world, and to grieve the life I’d lost simultaneously.
I explored my new landscape of illness and pain. Now, I lived in hospitals, in interminable waiting rooms, in a haze of blood tests, disability equipment, a fog of pain and people who greeted me with pity in their eyes.
Illness became what I knew.
And it was hypnotic. The pain disallowed any true perspective, and insulated me further. Living in a world badly designed for people with health issues, venturing out became harder and harder. The world beyond my body recededed. And as my focus shifted inwards, all that seemed real was my pain. It was loud, colourful and all-encompassing.
Finally, I discovered that I had to let go of my “illness life,” like shedding a skin, to discover a new me.
As Christina writes in Second Firsts, the waiting room is a compelling place and it’s where I got stuck when I became ill. There seemed to be many people who preferred I remain in the waiting room and in my narrow box. Perhaps, I seemed quieter. Weaker. Less of a challenge. Easier to handle when boldly labeled, “sick.”
Did they hope that “invalidity” invalidated me?
Climbing out of the boxes I’d been forced into was hard. When I first began my Trail Blazing Wellness work, one support group magazine refused to publish my work – they had a clear preference of an “all or nothing” perspective. If an article wasn’t presented as a pity party (Oh, poor thing, she’s so sick!) or a miraculous turnaround, (Amazing! She’s all better!) they wanted no part of it. My work focusing on living well in the present moment, even when it hurt so much, of not postponing your life until the mythical days of “when I’m better,” did not sit well within their black and white spectrum.
Similarly, last week my care agency rang my husband, perturbed by something that had been seen while a care worker was in our home. The disturbing activity: me soaking up the sunshine in the garden, pulling up the mint that was trying to take over my adapted herb bed. In truth, it was an idyllic scene: Making things work, living in the moment (and, winning the battle with those persistent mint plants!) Yet, there was prevailing alarm: She is sick! Why wasn’t she in bed? How could she possibly be gardening?
This attitude, compelling them to voice their concerns, to keep me firmly, “safely,” in a secure, little box, is a pervasive one. And one, as trail blazers, we can break out of, in spirited, vibrant fashion.
I released the constant (and futile) clamouring to return to the life I’d had pre-diagnosis, I released the “sick chick” persona that had been placed upon me and, in that shedding, I found a new me and a new life.
A good life. A great life.
Because there is somewhere between desperately ill and miraculously cured: I’m living there, healing there, playing there and working there.
I was told healing was impossible, to go home and get used to the pain, the exhaustion, the sickness. But I ignored that (terrible!) advice and developed a Healing Blueprint and a personalised Healing Team to blaze a wellness trail with me.
At the beginning, all I wanted to do was give my body a fair chance. To take away everything that I knew was making me feel worse and add in all the things I knew my body needed to heal, to create the best possible environment for healing and see what happened. What happened was more healing than I could possibly imagine. Six years later, I have a movement behind me.
Emerging from illness, I’ve experienced my first meal. First steps. First trip outside. First time seeing the stars after years of being bedridden and housebound (I’d forgotten about the simple beauty of stars!)
I could focus on all the things I still “can’t” do, but I choose to be compassionate with my body and my soul. Why self-highlight those things that limit me? Why overlook all the magic in the everyday? In myself? Instead, I find ways:
To work, happily.
To live, well.
To celebrate, unabashedly.
And to move ahead, with my face toward the sun.
I have found ways.
To be free.
Grace Quantock is a wellness provocateur, writer, speaker and founder of The Phoenix Fire Academy and Healing Boxes CIC. She lives in Wales, UK and loves reading, gardening and early mornings. Read more at www.gracequantock.com | www.healing-boxes.com and follow Grace on Twitter.
I’m so excited to debut the Life Starter’s Blog Series. I have had the greatest honor and fortune of hearing your powerful stories of personal transformation and I wanted to share them all. Because I know that together we can help support, inspire and lift one another. Every Tuesday, we will proudly feature your stories. If you’d like to submit a post, please go here for guidelines and more info. Happy reading!