“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom” —Victor Frankl
I’m not sure what has changed in the past few days, but I feel like I’ve gone from a mental space of worry to one of relative peacefulness and acceptance. It doesn’t feel like anything has changed inside of me; in fact, I feel just as lousy as I did last week—the usual MTX gripes and joint pain along with a bonus infection. But something has definitely shifted.
So I’m going to celebrate my accomplishments and the defining experiences of my year for a moment.
- I passed my doctoral exams with flying colors last spring, even though I was quite ill at the time.
- Shortly after my exams, I underwent a colonoscopy— despite my terror of anesthesia and surgery, and the general unpleasantness of the prep. (And they found and removed a polyp, so it’s good that I didn’t let my fear of the unknown prevail.)
- I ended a relationship that I knew in my heart wasn’t going to work in the long term. (And I didn’t jump into a rebound relationship just to avoid being alone, despite several opportunities.)
- I finally insisted on being referred to a rheumatologist, who diagnosed me with lupus and started treatment with DMARDs.
- I responded well to the treatment of my initial flare and was able to teach part-time in a program for gifted kids during the summer, while also working on editing and grant-writing project.
- I successfully applied for funding and took a week-long research trip to Minnesota.
- I adopted Stella, my cat, from the Atlanta Humane Society.
- I served as an patient advocate for the American College of Rheumatology.
- After a second major flare, which suggested an additional diagnosis of RA, I began treatment with MTX, which ultimately required me to overcome my fear of needles and self-injection.
- I taught a college-level course and only had to cancel a class meeting once.
- I advised several undergraduates with chronic health-related issues and helped them seek out accommodations and assistance from the university administration, health center, and disability services.
- I wrote and edited my dissertation prospectus and I will defend it by the end of this month!
Phew. I feel tired just thinking about all of that. What a year I’ve had. A crazy, exhilarating, sad, heart-wrenching, joyful year. But I really think my greatest accomplishment was my ability to accept and manage the challenges that my life presented to me. Though I had periods of grief and sadness—both over the loss of several important people in my life, as well as my diagnoses and poor health—I never once found myself wallowing in the depths of “why me?”. I don’t think my illness is punishment from a vindictive higher power, or the result of something I did or didn’t do (despite arguments to the contrary by certain politicians). So there’s no use in sitting around and wishing things were other than they are, unless I can turn that wishing into practical action.
Do I wish I weren’t sick? Absolutely. Do I wish my hands and feet (and knees and elbows and hips and jaw and…) weren’t swollen and sore? Of course. But I would rather focus on doing the things that I love and that give me pleasure in these moments here and now. Sometimes that means doing things that give me a sense of accomplishment and will lead, I hope, to more opportunities in the future, like continuing my academic research, teaching, and writing (even if I complain sometimes about grading papers). Other times that means listening to my body when it tells me to slow down and enjoying smaller moments—resting in the cocoon of my bed and petting my cat; savoring a cup of coffee when I get up, no matter what time it might be; taking a long bath and reading a magazine. And sometimes it means dressing up for a night out and having a great time with my friends, even if I’ll need to rest more in the days that follow.
As I get older, I realize that it’s no one else’s responsibility to rescue me from my life. I am the only person truly responsible for me and my own happiness. It is within my power to occupy the moments that occur before I respond to what the world offers me. I will continue to try to respond with wisdom, kindness, and wonder.