Category Archives: Resilience

Living Well with Chronic Illness

Living with a chronic illness is hard. Living well with a chronic illness is even harder. It takes mental and emotional strength. Courage and resilience. A sense of humor. Hope. A positive attitude. Adaptability. Faith helps. So do emotional support and community. And a reason for being.

I think people who live well with chronic illness ought to be celebrated like Olympic athletes. Their unsung accomplishments are remarkable.

Think of it: Beginning each day anew requires grit, determination, and perseverance to push through pain, illness, limitations, depression, bodies that don’t work well, brain fog, disappointment, or depression. Then, the next day they do it all over again.

It takes remarkable courage, as well, to keep moving toward an uncertain future whose only certainty is that things may get worse. It takes perseverance to devise new ways to do what we did before and can no longer do in the same way. It takes a sense of humor to laugh at ourselves and the ridiculous and to lighten the load.  

In addition to all that, it takes emotional strength to let go of what we have lost and move beyond our grief, and wisdom to know the proper balance between telling others our struggles and keeping them to ourselves.

Those with chronic illness demonstrate unseen strength and courage, silently doing things every day that others neither see nor imagine. And those who do this with graciousness, kindness, and good humor are even more remarkable. There ought to be awards given to such people.  

With that said, if you have a chronic condition or long-term illness, claim the strength, courage, adaptability, and resilience that gets you through and makes joy possible. These are superpowers. When you fall as you will, remember that this has happened before, and you got back up. You can, again. You’re a survivor and a role model.

Lastly, if you know someone who lives with a chronic condition, notice the silent challenges and accomplishments of their everyday life; their strength, courage, adaptability, and perseverance. Be inspired by the model of their life and tell them so. Be grateful to know such people. Those who live well with a chronic illness are a gift to this generation and those to come.

February is the Cruelest Month

T.S. Eliot says April is the cruelest month (The Wasteland), but February has my vote. I thought I would get a coronavirus vaccination this month but, like millions of others, discovered it will be much later because my state botched its vaccine rollout. The isolated seniors with whom I check in each week despair. We need hope.

Adding insult to injury, I was so excited to see primrose blossoms and daffodil shoots in my garden that I nearly cried when frigid weather blew in. Now my garden is buried under ten inches of snow. Dreams of an early spring were an illusion born of February’s desperation. The long pandemic winter continues. This is depressing.

Like the seniors with whom I speak regularly, I need a way to keep from going crazy. I could call my strategy “Plan B,” but I passed “B” a long time ago. This one is “R” for “reframing.”

Reframing is a mental exercise similar to changing the frame surrounding a picture. Although the picture itself remains the same, we experience it differently depending on the frame through which we view it. Whether our focus lingers on a dark red barn, a white moon, or a pale blue sky depends on the framing. The first example below draws the eye to the German words along the edge of the print while the Madonna and Child become almost secondary. In the second (click arrow below), the viewer is riveted on the Madonna sheltering her child and feels the protective comfort she provides (Madonna of Stalingrad drawn by Kurt Reuber in trenches of WWII). Same picture, different frame, different experience.

Something similar happens when we mentally reframe a difficult situation. A roadblock becomes a challenge; a mistake becomes a learning opportunity; a pandemic becomes a season for reassessing values, changing our life, building resiliency.

As the first pandemic year turns becomes a second, reframing helps us not only survive the pandemic but celebrate the good we have brought from it. Reframing helps us go forward with hope.

First, the fact that we were resilient enough to survive a year of the pandemic is worth celebrating. We made it. Yes, there is more ahead, but we survived. None of us imagined what the year would be like, nor that constraints on our life would last so long. The muscles of resiliency we strengthened last year will grow even stronger in 2021. Reframing the pandemic to celebrate our resilience and perseverance helps us keep going. We can do this. (See Resilience in Many Forms)

Second, the past year has been a season of growth. We read, streamed, cleaned, cooked, began new hobbies, and learned new technology skills. In 2021 we take that to a new level. There are more books to read, movies to watch, skills to expand, and cuisines to explore-and plenty of time to do it.

In the early months of the coronavirus, we sorted pantries, closets, and garages. Now we can do it all over again and peel away another layer. Stuff that seemed essential last year no longer does. Cull paperwork. Rethink a room. Simplify our space. Redo storage and closets. Add a houseplant. Throw away that ugly chair. (See Open My Window, Birds Still Sing)

February will end. The snow will melt. Spring will come. Government logistics are already improving and vaccine supplies increasing. We will emerge from pandemic isolation eventually. I promise.

We have made it this far and proven our resilience. Surviving coronavirus with our sanity will not be easy, but we can make it easier by reframing our experience. Looking across my desk to the snowy garden beyond my windows, I live in hope.  

Open My Window, Birds Still Sing

“Comfort, comfort, ye my people,” says our God.
Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40

When Sarah Jarosz sang “open my window, birds still sing” from her new song on NPR’s Morning Edition last week, I felt like a mother eagle had flown into my COVID-19 heart and carried me on her wings. “Up In The Clouds” is a poignant, joyful, reminder of hope in the COVID-19 era. (Hear Grammy-nominated Jarosz’s “Up In the Clouds” and her interview with David Greene here.) As we stare into the next surge of Coronavirus, let us notice our resilience and celebrate the birds that still sing.

Month after month, we kept going. We cleaned pantries and garages when the pandemic began, baked bread, put Teddy Bears in windows, planted gardens, and drew with chalk on sidewalks.

In the beginning, we stitched thousands of masks at our kitchen tables and gave them away for free. We thanked essential workers for risking their health on our behalf. We eagerly awaited summer so we could be outside the confines of our home.

We closed our businesses. Cared for our sick. Buried our dead. Learned how to worship, meet, and chat on Zoom. We have been resilient.

And yet, the Coronavirus is not finished with us yet. More isolation and sorrow await us this winter.

Like the Psalmist, we plead for a word of hope, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”

“Open your window,” says the Eternal One. “Birds still sing.”

All is not lost. There is still love. And goodness. And God who, like a mother eagle, catches us when we fall.

Squirrels still bury nuts in my garden, and my chickens still lay eggs. Eyes smile above face masks. Snow sparkles today on mountain peaks. Vaccines will come in the new year.

Birds still sing. Beauty is still being created, music sung, and laughter heard. Wrongs are still being righted, broken relationships mended, people comforted, hungry folk fed. A world is still being born.

This pandemic will mark us for the rest of our life. Some of us will bounce back quickly. Others will take a long time to fly again. Some will be gone.

Those who make it through will say when facing a new challenge, “If I made it through the Great Pandemic, I can handle this ____.” We will celebrate how strong we are and how resilient we have become.

Every morning it’s the same. Coffee and memories fill my cup.
And I’ve been thinking that I should learn how to do something new with my time – dig my hands in the dirt, build something that works, get all my loose ends tied.
Open my window, birds still sing.
I want to learn all of their songs, sometime this century till the water washes us away.

From “Up In The Clouds” by Sarah Jarosz