The Language of Dis-ease

UnderwaterTreasure2Illness and injury get no respect. They are the pariahs of the human experience, cast off and despised as adversaries or at the very least, inconvenient truths. If we took the time to acquaint ourselves with these repudiated occurrences, we’d not only lessen our misery but also emerge as victors who have captured an extraordinary prize.

My career allows me to work with the infirm on a daily basis. As such, I am privy to the language of dis-ease, which, I would claim, is one of the richest and most complicated languages of any I’ve heard.

Dis-ease speaks in unlimited dialects unique to each person – a language unto itself that can only be fully understood by the person to whom it is being spoken. The problem and the blessing is that most of us aren’t fluent in this language. Even those, or especially those, who suffer chronically, struggle to understand the messages of their dis-ease.

A young woman has cancer but is in denial. Months past her diagnosis she won’t let her thoughts attach to the idea that her body is under siege and could inevitably succumb. To do so would feel too vulnerable – like opening the front door and setting out a welcome mat. She pretends that she is the same woman now as she was before, fiercely self-reliant and insanely productive.

As many do, she mistakes denial for survival mentality and thinks that if she refuses to let cancer change the outward appearance of her life, it will not change the inner.

“Good idea.” we agree. “Think positive. Don’t give in.” We look on dis-ease as the ultimate enemy – the criminal who robs us. But dis-ease is not the enemy. Our resistance to it is the actual thief.

A man has had surgery after an accident and will be out of commission for weeks. He has felt angry and impatient. He berates himself for the imagined avoid-ability of it all. This is akin to thinking that one could skip 7th grade if only one had been more careful.

There are lessons to be learned from difficult times that simply cannot be passed over. Setbacks are perfectly-placed opportunities for learning. How would we learn true patience if we weren’t frustrated beyond sanity? How could we know the depths of compassion from others if we weren’t ever desperate for help?

In my children’s elementary school they set aside an educational block called WIN – What I Need. During this time, the students break off into groups tailored to an area of deficiency. Life School has What I Need. Naturally, we’d rather go to recess than to WIN. But on that one day, perhaps a very difficult day when we’ve all but given up, something clicks and we GET IT. We get that we need to:

accept help
face mortality
learn how to prioritize
ask for what we need and want
shed vanity
learn how to channel anger and jealousy
surrender our agenda…….

The lightbulb turns on and we realize what life, our teacher, has been trying to teach us all these years. We have seen this problem before – back in ‘Relationship Breakup Class’ and in ‘Becoming a New Parent Class’, and in ‘Loss of a Job Class.’ It took another crisis for us to see it, but it all makes sense now. Life, the best teacher ever, refuses to give up on us. It keeps presenting us with new opportunities to learn.

Sister found me half-asleep, curled up on a couch in a quiet room away from the other partygoers for whom I had been pretending to be well. Ever so tenderly, she covered me with a blanket then silently crept away. A single tear materialized and a relaxed rush of emotion spread through my aching body. This one simple gesture was an enormous gift of caring that moved me and saddened me. How long had it been since someone had mothered me? How long since I allowed someone to try? Sickness was the circuit-breaker that blew my fuse, presenting the darkness I needed where I wouldn’t otherwise choose to shut down the overload.

If illness is knocking at your door, you can pretend you’re not home but it won’t go away. It’s there FOR you. Everything that happens TO us happens FOR us. Perhaps, instead of cursing dis-ease, we could thank it. Even if we don’t clearly see the lesson plan, we can be assured that there is one and can be grateful that this teacher has shown up to present it.

If we refuse to stretch our awareness and refuse to relax our grip on our incomplete understanding of life, we risk becoming bitter and fear-filled. Anxiety reigns in those who believe in ghosts. Dis-ease doesn’t want to hurt us and leave us empty-handed. It’s not looking for a fight, this sheep in wolves’ clothing. It wants us to grow.

Sometimes dis-ease brings us to the brink of death and dysfunction in order to see. Don’t be afraid. Open your eyes. Look with your heart. Let your mind expand. Find the gifts that are hidden beneath the surface like buried treasure.

There is beauty in dis-ease. I insist. I’ve seen it. Not in the person who ‘survived’ for the sake of living and returning to a premorbid state of being. The real beauty is found in the vulnerable one who dares to surrender to the message. The one who says, “I accept this poker hand and I raise the bet. I bet that even if I don’t win the pot at the end, I will still have learned something about playing the game. And I am content with that.”

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sacha
    Feb 05, 2016 @ 12:59:39

    Absolutely stunning piece. Your metaphorical and lyrical writing goes right to the core of the issue. I’m sitting here crying as i think of the broken foot i had and all the resistance i experienced – I was so mad, so stunned that it was happening to me that i was in total denial that it was even broken! When i couldn’t take the pain any more (but suffered quite nicely like a brave girl) I succumbed to a surgeon who said, “where have you been?” The next 4 months i continued with the total inconvenience and unfairness of it all, barely pausing to take in the experience. I’ve recently been thinking what an injustice i did to my foot and and myself but your piece has taken my feelings to yet another level …. i’m going to read it again and revisit it all. As you learn you so elegantly invite us to expand. thank you once again.


    • Deb Dunham
      Feb 06, 2016 @ 01:39:11

      Sacha, I’m sorry to hear how you suffered. And happy to know that you worked your way to a higher understanding. Your foot has healed I presume and your soul will continue to do it’s healing and growing. Beauty.

      Sent from my iPhone



    • Mary Mucci
      Feb 06, 2016 @ 18:31:07

      Thanks for sharing your story. I try to remind myself of the truths shared here….That there is a lesson in everything. After a recent vacation, I went thru a bout of pneumonia {which I had on a family vacation in Mexico many years ago.} .. I know the lungs are about grief…so I grieved… It helped me think about facing what is to come next… my divorce. Hope your back to skipping…..


      • Deb D
        Nov 15, 2018 @ 12:06:45

        There is so much wisdom in, and compassion from, the body. It’s remarkable when we understand its message as you did, and are able to move forward.

  2. E
    Feb 04, 2016 @ 13:21:05

    As a fiercely independent woman, my injury has forced me to ask for help, and provided an opportunity for My boys to learn compassion as well as cooking and cleaning skills. I am still reluctant to ask for help as I’d prefer to do things myself. Thanks for sharing


  3. Mamanolian
    Feb 04, 2016 @ 13:10:17

    Wow – you nailed this one on the head! As I battle a mild but annoying bout of laryngitis, I am going try valiantly to understand this is a WIN and not let anger, frustration, or “woe-is-me” rule the day!


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