(This piece was originally posted over at Hello, Dearest last week.)
I divide the timeline of my life as pre-disease and post-disease. But this is a new division. Just over six months ago, the same week my book Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame and Rebuilding Your Soul was released, I woke up unable to walk. Fingers, hands, elbows, knees, ankles and big toes were swollen to the size of watermelons. My pain level was so high that I could only put a feather’s weight of pressure on my legs.
After a trip to the ER, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease – one that is chronic and lifelong. And while many people live with this illness and find relief in medicines and dietary changes (I know I will too), for now I’m just trying to wrap my brain around this initial diagnosis.
Acceptance: a word I’m trying to grab a hold of, roll around in my tender swollen hands, make dents in with my achy fingertips, and mold into something that makes sense to me – something that could perhaps even pass as beauty.
I recently read that in any type of loss – physical, emotional, spiritual – one has to make a list, an inventory of the important things that have gone missing. Doing so equips you to say goodbye, to grieve, to reckon. I won’t depress you with my “Things Lost List.” It’s long and sad and would probably bore you. Instead I’ll share a piece of another list I recently started, a list to help me find my way towards that acceptance: “The List of Things I Have Not Lost.”
That list contains people like my supportive husband, my friends and family. But it also includes moments – like the moment in the morning when I sit on the couch with a cup of coffee filled to the brim with luscious and thick vanilla creamer. I stare out the window at my neighbor’s perfectly manicured backyard. With all those vegetables, herbs, daffodils and almost-in-bloom hydrangea bushes (in the backyard of all places, where no one can even see them!), well, he’s just showing off.
I sit on the couch sipping my coffee, trying not to be jealous of my neighbor’s emerald thumb, until one of my sons sneaks down in his pajamas and bare toes. He snuggles next to me on the couch and asks me to read him a book or begs me for screen time before school. We burrow under blankets, poke each other and giggle, and comment on the neighbor’s self-important tomatoes and lettuces. We wonder: Should we sneak over and steal some for a morning omelet?
Our stomachs growl and we decide that we’d rather eat donuts than omelets. But we don’t have donuts, so we make oatmeal. And we giggle some more and then my other boys wake up and join us for oatmeal. The morning rushes towards school and the bus stop and homework and dinner and bath and bedtime.
But we’ve had that moment in the morning. And there on the couch with my coffee and my snuggly-son, I’ve forgotten that my hair is falling out and that my weight is packing on. I’ve forgotten that it still hurts to stand. There on the couch, my son doesn’t even notice those things. To him, I am still silly mommy in the mornings.
A therapist/blogger I admire, Dr. Kelly Flanagan, once wrote, “It turns out, peace doesn’t happen when you find what you’re looking for; peace is what happens when you call off the terrible search for what you already have.”
In other words, the thing we’re all searching for is to finally stop searching.
That’s what I’ve decided true health is for me – for just a few moments each day to call off the search for my former self, my pre-diseased self, the “Lost Things Self.” In the mornings on the couch, with my coffee, the window and my pajama-boy, I’ll pause my reckoning; I’ll note these instances of beauty and entwine them to the newly divided timeline of my life.