Maybe you feel a sense that you are simply adrift. The tides of life toss you this way and that, and you no longer know how to chart your course and make your way. Like many of us here, an illness has thrown your well-made plans into disarray, taken from you many things you held dear and made you reconsider what life is all about.
Confronting the reality of chronic illness
This confusion, though it is unpleasant, is a friend. It can help you get deep down to the core of who you are.
There is nothing that strikes as deep as facing your own mortality, of sensing within your own degeneration and fragility. It is painful, no doubt, and can hurt in ways everyone would like to avoid. A deeper look may show things about your life aren’t pleasant. But it can also wake you up, set you straight, and get you moving again. I find that by confronting the harsh reality of chronic illness, I simultaneously discover a sense of urgency and unfulfilled purpose to life that helps me out on this journey.
What does it mean to have purpose?
Having a purpose to your life has many benefits: health, meaning, determination, and something to hold on to when life gets you down and beats upon you relentlessly.
There is a dearth of literature, both academic, philosophical, and religious, on what having purpose in your life can do. Motivational speakers are making the rounds, selling purpose as an antidote to your anomie, your aimlessness and failing ambitions.
There is a whole lot of talk about purpose. But why?
The truth of purpose can get lost when packaged as cheap, artificial, and for sale. Underneath the superficiality, however, is the principle that it is distinctly human to strive for something.
No doubt there are various answers to the “what” of purpose, and plenty of disagreement in that regard. There is also argument about how to find your purpose. There is less argument, however, on what purpose is. We sense it within. We know what it looks like in others and in ourselves.
Does chronic illness change our purpose?
Chronic illness can bring your purpose in life under assault. It can throw your life plan's into disarray. You may have lost a sense of who you are, and are trying to get it back
You may not like the new you. I certainly didn't. Pain, prescriptions, doctor’s visits, more pain, fatigue, weakness, and worry become reality. It is an utter hell at times. You want out of this place and back into your life. But how?
If you can find within yourself a sense of purpose, be it what you study, connecting with friends and family, your work, art, writing, church, school, or community, you will have in your mind something that makes living with the illness easier. The struggles may not go away, but you will have something that can draw you out of your mind and get you involved in what is going on around you.
Purpose as a way to cope with chronic illness
Purpose is one of many tools that can be used in coping with chronic illness. It is not the only tool, and it is not a panacea or quick fix. Dwelling on your purpose can help organize your life, decide on what is important and what is not, cut out distractions and focus on what matters, push through obstacles, and get you out of your head and involved with others, or in activities that bring you a sense of meaning and worth.
The limitations of chronic illness
Reasonably, an illness imposes limitations. You may no longer be able to do many of the things that brought you great meaning and a sense of purpose. For instance, I no longer compete in the sports I love, though I tried and succeeded for a few years. To compensate for a loss in one area of my life, I shifted even more focus to other areas of my life like career, family, personal studies, and learning.
If your illness has taken from you the ability to do the things that once brought you meaning and purpose, try thinking of other areas in your life that you would like to deepen involvement in and focus on those. Let the past be what it is. In illness we lose many things; however, try strengthening, maintaining, and redefining your purpose. I personally have found this allows me to cope far more effectively.
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