I am a detailed oriented person; some would say a Type-A personality; my husband might even say anal-retentive. I live my life by lists, dozens, well, probably hundreds of items fill my lists on my laptop. I have 4 different note taking/scheduling programs and am looking at a 5th, and my family fills my Christmas Stocking with various forms of 3M Post-It Notes so I can cover the printer, the wall and every available surface with reminders to check the lists in the four, nearly 5, programs, I have running. Possibly, my husband is right….
I guess you would say I am your typical meticulous personality who lays awake at night, running through each detail of every task, down to the smallest element. I often obsess over the outcome of, well, everything, and fear forgetting the minutiae of life. So, what happened when I suddenly found myself disabled and unable to control even the basics of my body and personal space? I would like to say, I simply adjusted, I reassessed my capabilities and made the necessary modifications to continue being a productive member of society, but unfortunately, it was a bit messier than all that.
Along with my compulsive list making, I was also a compulsively neat person. Everything had a place and if it wasn’t in its place, I might become…troubled. And, by ‘troubled’ I mean digress into a nervous breakdown. I am sure my family has stories I would rather not be told about the good ole’ days, before my illness, when the sight of items in my house not at right angles would cause me to be panic-stricken. Or, heaven forbid, something blue was in my house, or the walls were white, or dog hair was on the carpet…you get the idea. So, after more than nine years in a wheelchair and with many days I can’t even move out of bed…I have to say, my disability has changed me in unexpected ways. It was a bit chaotic, but I had to change significantly, not just for my sake, but the sake of my family….
There came a point in my illness when I had to realize the remotes not sitting precisely on the table didn’t end the world, and the dishes didn’t have to always be done, and the kids leaving their possessions on the floor wasn’t going to bring about the Apocalypse, it was just life. So, as difficult as it is to admit sometimes, I have to say, there was a benefit to becoming ill. When you lose so much of your life, sometimes you need to take time to assess what you have gained as well. I could give you a laundry list of everything I lost in the last nine years but I would rather not. I would rather try to think of what I have gained.
I think the biggest gain from becoming ill was being able to sympathize and empathize with those I meet on a day to day basis. I did not come from a household where we were taught empathy to any degree. There was a great deal of criticism of others, arbitrary benchmarks and expectations that we, ourselves, did not live up to but were all too willing to require from others. Although I had already begun to work through these issues, the loss of so much in my life caused me to speed-up and further reevaluate my priorities.
I am, of course, still an avid note-keeper. The first paragraph of this blog entry is an accurate description of my note-taking prowess…I live by my lists, but I quickly learned they were no longer unalterable deadlines. I had to realize that my family was already overwhelmed with my care. Taking on all my duties, which I agonized over each day, was too much on them. I began to appreciate that asking for precision beyond the truly necessary would have been thoughtless on my part, regardless of the war that was waging inside of me. I had to do more than make an effort; I had to stop requiring life to be so precise. I could no longer set those standards because I could no longer accomplish them independently. That means a change was necessary in me for the benefit of everyone in my life.
I have to admit to still quivering a bit when I see a blind not perfectly straight, or smudges on the mirror, or have to wait an extra day, or week, to do something I would have taken care of right away if I could. But, today, at this point in my life, I have learned to smile, push those feelings aside and continue. Does that mean I am now able to control my compulsive nature? Possibly, to a degree, but that is not what really changed. What actually changed was my ability to care more about how my actions affect others than what I felt I required within myself
Possibly watching my family sacrifice so much for me showed me a new level of love. I don’t mean to say I was ever a monster, or was a cold unfeeling person, but I do believe I was critical and was too quick to judge others and not always cognizant of the expectations I placed on people. Being raised in a very conservative home, that is par for the course, but when you are faced with great Love, as I have been from the moment my husband came into my life, you cannot continue on that path. I began to see not only God, but also life in general, in a very different light.
When I became ill and my family literally took my care into their hands, they had faith in me when all the doctors gave me a death sentence. At that point, you begin to see far beyond yourself and into the needs of others. I find it is easier to look for the hurt in someone’s eyes, or in the tone of someone’s voice. I try to see beyond the pasted-on smile, or growls or angry outbursts, and see the heart. There are so many that want to bandy about the word compassion but rarely actually demonstrate compassion through their actions.
I think it means, no matter what befalls you in life, there is always a way to use it for good, even if it means changing yourself to do so, or possibly, especially if it means changing yourself. The pain you feel can always be used for good. You can use the trials in your life to help someone else. You don’t have to start an organization or give away huge amounts of money, you can simply say the right word at the right time, or give a helping hand, or just listen. For me, it meant finding ways to take what helped me in my struggles, to others. Fiber Arts was what helped keep my hands mobile and keeps my legs moving, it helped me learn to control my mind so I didn’t dwell on the pain and instead, concentrate on creating something beautiful. It left me with the desire to bring that to others.
For those of us who are chronically ill and/or disabled, and who face trials many may never know, we have a choice…if we make that a positive choice, we can turn our suffering into hope. Every time I am able to support someone else and see the delight that brings to them, I feel my pain a little less and have more optimism for the future. When I focus on helping others, the old adage is true, I have less time to think of me, even though most would understand my narcissism at times. When I bring others into focus, I loose site of myself and honestly, that is a wonderful feeling.
…of course, I still have my lists, and my schedules, and precision always wins out when accomplishing my goals…. I have just learned to not expect others to do things the way I do. I try to be a little more laid-back which something I never was in my youth. For that, I have my husband, Joshua, to thank. He is the Ying to my Yang, we are partners and we balance, and for that I am grateful. I have more to say, but I have a list to attend to….
Serenity in Fiber,