Duality in Chronic Illness Life

August 23, 2022

It has taken me 45 years to really learn and understand that two things can be true at the same time. You can hold one truth in one hand, and the opposite can be held as truth in the other hand simultaneously. For the longest time I fought against this notion. If I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed, I felt that there was no way for me to be happy at the same time. If I was feeling grief over a loss, I would not allow myself to experience joys that come from small moments. Honestly, it was like living in a constant tug of war that had me giving in to the emotion that felt the loudest – which in my case, would typically be the hard emotions like suffering, pain, and sorrow.

The reason that I bring up the a-ha moment from earlier this year that has completely changed my way of processing my feelings is that I am currently knee deep in “two things can be true”.

At the end of May my oldest child turned 15 years old. Around that time, it really hit me that he was about to finish his grade 9 year and that potentially I will only have 3 summers left with him living at home.  This threw me into a small panic because I feel like we have placed our life on hold for the past 2.5 years due to Covid. There are so many things I want to experience with him before he embarks on his next adventure of post-secondary school. If it is not glaringly obvious, I tend to go from zero to one hundred very quickly.

The result of my absurd panic was a commitment I made to myself that this would be a summer of YES for me. Yes, I will be present when I am with my children. Yes, I will go on all the rides, jump in all the lakes, sleep in the tent, eat the ice cream for dinner (OK, that one may have been mine).  I vowed to myself that I would unplug when we were on vacation, and I would embrace all the moments with my children.

For the last 8 weeks I have been running. It has been go, go, go between work, kids sporting activities and school finishing up, and the summer of YES commencing. I have been holding myself accountable to my promise and when one of my kids asks me to toss a football with them, swim in the pool with them, go to Wonderland with them, float down rivers with them, go on road trips with them, jump off piers with them, my answer is yes. I am doing ALL THE THINGS…and then some! And while I have genuinely loved (almost) every moment and memory we have made together, I am tired. Bone tired.

Here is where two things can be true. I can feel joy and happiness in saying yes and making these amazing memories with my family, while also feeling angry with my body and frustration with my energy levels. I don’t have to choose to focus on only the anger which would then overshadow the joy. I can decide not to wallow in the frustration but instead choose to lie down for a rest and feel happy that I am allowing myself the break.

What I have learned over this summer of yes is that every action has a reaction, sometimes two. Our road trip to PEI brought me laughter, joy when trying new things, happiness when tossing the football to my kids in the ocean. It also brought me sadness at night when I collapsed into bed, frustrated that I could not participate in bridge jumping (the pier jumping was risky enough) and anger that I am not a healthy 46-year-old mother.

I wanted to share this because I think it is a struggle that those of us who live with a chronic illness might relate to. We can feel both happy and sad at the same time. Two things can be true. We can feel overjoyed with a situation while grieving it at the same time. Two things can be true. And we can feel tired. Just tired. Sometimes that is the only truth. And that is OK.