I’ve struggled…a lot. And again, not a drop compared to some. My life has been turned upside down. I’ve nearly lost my business that I’ve poured myself into and grown for more than 16 years, due to my inability to work. I’ve nearly lost my family as I’ve descended into depression and despair that almost talked me into leaving, so that my struggle would no longer negatively affect them. And yet, somehow, I’m still here, and still fighting.
When I first became sick, I searched for answers and causes and reasons. And, I was angry and bewildered, incessantly wondering how my life had so drastically changed in, what seemed to be just a matter of weeks. I would have fits of anger followed by deep, dark depression that left me wondering if I really wanted to go through the rest of my life this way, especially not knowing what tomorrow would bring. Depression that I felt completely powerless against, like nothing I had ever experienced.
Then, my aunt, who had won a fight against melanoma, told me a story that her doctor had told her. The story, though I won’t begin to try to quote, affected me in an unexpected way. Her doctor said that she and her mom had both survived breast cancer. But, she said I live my life as if my struggles were planned, long before I was born, to help me grow.
I began to think about this. What if…just ‘what if’ that were true of my story as well. What if my struggles were really purpose driven lessons to help me learn and grow. Well, I decided at that moment, that if that were true, then…I cannot fail! I cannot quit now! I have to do the best I can to get through this thing, without ending up a bitter, disgraceful mess of a person. Without being remembered as the dad or husband who gave up or who did nothing not to let this disease get the best of him. Somehow, that story made me feel better. Because, If I am just the recipient of a stinky bag of poo, that is one thing. But…if somehow, in some way, this disease has a purpose…I can’t let myself down.
Pain and struggle bring honesty. And, after hearing my aunt’s story, I began to accept that this might just be part of my journey. We all have different journeys and different struggles. And, even though I felt like I had already had my share of struggles, maybe there were some things I missed along the way. Some things that had not quite sunk in.
What has my journey taught me? Well, for starters, I have to say that I feel like I am only beginning to learn, as I feel my struggle has just started. But, over the past two years of living with RA, I have discovered that ‘I am not immortal’. I can be broken and I’m not perfect. And, I’m far more susceptible to illness and even death, than I ever thought before. Which, in itself, has taught me to appreciate life and to live a little more in the moment instead of just ‘being there’.
I now ask myself, ‘What if this is the last time you get to take your daughter roller skating?’. Or, what if this is the last time you would ever be able to ride a bike? And, it brings me back and begs me to enjoy the look on my daughters face as she skates across the floor. And, helps me to ‘really’ enjoy the way it feels to roll down the street on my bike, my path controlled only by me. Then I think, ‘Man, I hope this is not my last time. But if so, at least I let myself actually ‘live’ in the moment.
I now am filled with compassion for those around me. We are all struggling somehow, but for some, there is so much pain and struggle that is hidden to the rest of us. It’s really hard to understand how challenging these illnesses are, until you’ve had one yourself. I am so thankful for the compassion, empathy and ability to understand those who are suffering. And, I’m not afraid to show it now, even if it pulls me to tears, no matter who sees. My male bravado is gone. I’m softer inside, and I’m so sorry for those who can’t understand compassion and feel the pain of others the way that I do now.
And (although I’ve learned much more, I feel), one of my biggest lessons has been in the fact that without struggle, there is no growth. Without hardship, our lessons are somehow smaller. It’s the clouds scattered across the evening sky that make the sunset so beautiful.
And finally, I am here with you. I understand you. We are struggling, but we don’t have to struggle alone! Sometimes, just telling someone ‘we’ll get through this together and I will be by your side, through good and bad’ is the best thing you can do for someone.
So, we all know that these diseases can wreck us on the outside. But, how has your struggle made you better or enriched your life?