Chronic Illness as Pilgrimage (a love note)

Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

I continue my blog book tour this summer and am delighted that Judy Smoot of Always We Begin Again is hosting a guest post from me as well as an interview (see interview details below).

Here is an excerpt of my reflection on living with chronic illness as an experience of pilgrimage:

snail 1I was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when I was 21 years old. The only other person I knew at the time with this disease was my mother and her body had been ravaged by the effects of deterioration, with multiple joint replacements and eventually use of an electric wheelchair for mobility.

I first dealt with my diagnosis through denial. I had just graduated from college and traveled across the country to begin a year of volunteer work. I managed to push my way through fatigue and pain for about six years before I was forced to stop. I was teaching high school at the time and my wrists were growing ever more painful. An xray revealed severe damage to the joints despite the aggressive medication I had been taking.

My doctor urged me to stop teaching, it was too much for my body. Thankfully I had private disability insurance through the school where I worked that helped sustain me financially first through a year of rest and healing and later through five years of graduate work to earn a PhD. I lived much of that time with the fear I would never be able to support myself financially. I was profoundly grateful for my loving husband who worked to provide for our needs.

During that first year of disability, without any work to claim when people asked me “what do you do?”, I was often in emotional pain as well over the loss of an identity. I didn’t look sick and often came judgment from others, or inner judgment about why I wasn’t trying harder. Many were supportive, but others offered unwelcome advice or explanations about how I wasn’t thinking the right thoughts. Dr. Joan Borsyenko describes this as “new age fundamentalism.”

Keep reading my reflection here>>

There are many kinds of journeys in our lives, some are more challenging to others. The invitation is to respond from a place of compassion and welcome to all the discomfort that arises in us in response.

With great and growing love,

Christine

*This note is excerpted from Christine’s book The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Inner Journey.

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2 Responses

  1. Christine, thank you so much for sharing this.
    I have ME and Fibromyalgia and related to so much of what you said. With the onset of a chronic illness, which I also for the most part look well with, I had to leave a job which was my passion and which gave me an identity I valued.
    I also have made peace with my illness but cannot in all honesty say I have become friends with it yet. But I do value the many things it has taught me as well as, to a large degree, the life I have now which I wouldn’t have otherwise had.
    I now am moving forward with my life in a way that was unexpected for me and the challenge is to not just acknowledge intellectually, which I do, but recognise deep down that what I have to give is my woundedness and vulnerability. You have long been an inspiration to me and now you are even more inspiring – thank you!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I was born with Sickle Cell Anemia, a hereditary blood disease that causes chronic pain. Due to my disease and other medical complications I found myself no longer working at the age of 35. People have questioned if I am truly as sick as I say. But when people hear my full story they are in shock that I look as healthy as I do. Over time I have come, not only to make peace with my illness, but to become friends with it. We are one in the same person and I would not have formed into the person I am today without it. Most people would never but the words ‘disease’ and ‘blessing’ in the same sentence. But I do consider my disease a blessing- as it has been my teacher, guiding me through profound lessons that I otherwise would have never learned.

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