Living with a chronic illness I soon realized that I was no longer in control of my own life. I did not decide to have a chronic illness, that’s for sure. Becoming disabled from work, losing my career, and no longer earning a paycheck, was not my idea. There was no decision process, no “pros and cons list” to mull over. The decision to be disabled was made by something much bigger than me. It was made by autoimmune disease.
From the time I left work that fateful day in 2008, so many more decisions were taken out of my hands. I had no control. I began to wonder what, if anything, was still within my grasp to control for myself.
I found myself thinking of one of the first books I remember checking out of the school library. I loved it so much at age 6 that I risked ridicule from the kids on the school bus by continuing to read it again at age 7, 8 and 9. “Happiness Is…” featuring the much beloved Snoopy. The first time I grabbed it off the library shelf I was drawn to it because of that adorable cartoon dog, but I continued to check it out because of the way it made me feel to read it.
As I ponder the book and it’s meaning now, it takes on a different slant. Living with a chronic illness, “Happiness is” a day without crippling pain. “Happiness is” a night without night sweats. “Happiness is” not having a fever for a whole day. “Happiness is” less joint pain, less muscle aches. How could I find where the “Happiness is” if I felt so sick and had so much pain?
I knew I would have to really look for where the “Happiness is”. It was not an obvious kind of thing like it was when I was a child. One thing for sure, I knew where it was not. It was not at work anymore, being a productive member of society. It was not boarding an airplane or cruise ship to some exotic vacation. It was not at the mall shopping for some fabulous shoes. And at times, it was not even driving myself to a friend’s house for a visit.
Being that sick, it almost feels like the word “chronic” is not an accurate term. Is there even a term for being acutely ill chronically? Well, there should be. When you are in the clutches of an autoimmune disease flare up, (or the vicious grip of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) or Fibromyalgia), it is much easier to say what happiness is “not”. You could probably fill up a notebook with what happiness is “not”. But the question remains… what is happiness with a chronic illness? Can there be happiness? Is there anything to be happy about?
In reverse order, is there anything to be happy about? Maybe not. On some days, definitely not. But can there be happiness? The answer is more than a word, it is not yes or no. Happiness is a decision. It is a choice, a conscious choice.
For me, I started with the obvious, my dogs. The puppy was never short on adorable new ways in which to be cute. The old guy was a constant source of loyal companionship. If I was in bed, he would lay beneath me on the floor. If I moved to the couch, he waited until I was settled and then took his place on the floor beside me. He would even escort me to the bathroom and wait patiently on the other side of the closed door. I swear he worried about me as much as my husband.
I started there. I would let my hand dangle over the side of the couch and feel for the top of his head. It always brought a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. Or I would watch the puppy romp around in the backyard; and when I had enough energy, I would toss the ball for her from the back stoop. If the sun was shining I would stop and take a moment to really feel the warmth on my face (for only a few minutes as the sun can cause me to feel worse). If there was a breeze I would close my eyes and feel the gentle wind brush past my cheek and tousle my hair. I would listen for the birds in the trees, past the rumble of traffic from the nearby highway, to the music they make squawking back and forth in conversation. Some would call this “being present in the moment”.
Once you start to open yourself up to being in the present moment, tiny experiences of joy and happiness reveal themselves. You begin to see that they are really all around you. The smell of brewing coffee. The smell of clean sheets. Once you begin to acknowledge these seemingly very small things, more things will present themselves to bring you joy… the sound of kids cackling up over something funny, the melody of church bells from the nearby church sounding out the hour.
Soon I started to realize that I had bigger things to be happy about. I have not one, but several dear, dear friends. I’ve known them for over 35 years! And just hearing one of their voices on the other end of the telephone makes me happy. The fact that my children are growing into wonderful adults who actually choose to seek out my company… that’s huge to me! I didn’t know that it would be, I kind of assumed when I birthed them that we would always have a relationship, but now I see how often children and parents become estranged for months or years at a time! So “happiness is” a close relationship with my children, my friends and my husband! When I start counting my blessings, one leads to another, and another!
I look back at Snoopy‘s version of “Happiness Is” in awe of it’s beautiful simplicity. You can find happiness in everyday things, in small things, in mundane things. Once you decide to choose happiness a magical switch is flipped and your perspective on life, no matter your circumstances, will be happy. The message is clear, "Happiness Is"... a choice!