As I was lying awake last night due to the pain I was feeling with each breath, instead of trying to count sheep, I found myself counting the number of months since I’d been in the hospital. Then the number of days until my upcoming surgery and the number of times I’ll make the two-hour drive to my hospital in the next month. I finally fell back to sleep around the time I was counting the weeks since I’d experienced this familiar pain in my chest. It’s been a while, and for that, I am grateful.
Having a chronic illness feels like constantly being at war, only the adversary isn’t an unknown enemy, it’s your own body. You fight battle after battle, all the while knowing that there’s no end in sight. Even when the dust seems to settle for a while, the enemy is planning its next attack. You can never fully rest because you’re always cognizant of the fact that if you let your guard down, your opponent will take that opportunity to sucker punch you right in the face then laugh as you spend the next few weeks or months trying to recover.
It’s endless. It’s exhausting. It’s absolutely draining.
I was contemplating these thoughts this morning as I sat drinking my coffee, trying not to anger my lungs by taking too deep a breath. This specific type of pain is not entirely uncommon. In fact, it’s a classic sign that I’ve pushed my body a little too hard. This is simply what she does when she’s worn out. Extra treatments, some targeted manual CPT, plenty of hydration, and some rest should resolve this issue. I’ll be fine.
That’s when I realized something: my body is telling me exactly what she needs right now. Is that what the enemy would do? In a true battle, the opposing side doesn’t give you a bullet point list of instructions, but that’s oftentimes exactly what my body does (if I’m willing to listen to the clues she gives).
My body isn’t the enemy, this disease is!
My body does nothing but fight for me – that’s literally all she does every single day. She fights through exacerbations. She fights to keep me breathing. She fights through side effects of medications and unpleasant medical procedures. She fights to carry me through my day-to-day life. She fights so I can enjoy days with my family and spend more time with my daughter. She fights to give me as normal a life as possible.
I have to stop thinking of my body as my nemesis and remember that I’m not fighting against her, I’m fighting with her. We’re on the same team! I’ve often said that I feel betrayed by my body, which is neither kind nor completely accurate. I’m a huge advocate for body positivity and unconditional kindness toward oneself, but I’m a total hypocrite! I’m always saying things to and about my body that are negative. My lungs suck. My sinuses are a wreck. My joints are busted. My pancreas is worthless. If anything, I’m the one who betrays my body by being so hostile when things aren’t going my way.
I’m the jerk, not her!
So I’m trying something new. I’m going to make a real effort to treat my body with absolute kindness. I’m going to stop portraying her as the enemy and remember that she truly is my best friend and biggest ally. I’m going to reframe my thinking in moments of pain and frustration. What is my body telling me? What does she need? Rather than thinking of all the ways my body holds me back, I’m going to focus on being grateful for the truly amazing things she does.
My beef isn’t with my body, it’s with the monster that lives inside. CF is the enemy, and my body? She’s not a traitor, she hasn’t betrayed me; she’s a miracle (and honestly, kind of a badass)!
If I’m lucky, we’ll be battling this disease together for a long, long, very long time to come.