I recently attended a fundraiser for an amazing organization called Dress for Success. It’s an inspirational group dedicated to helping women re-enter the work force by empowering them, building their confidence and giving them the tools to persevere in a changing world. The fundraiser included a fashion show (where a friend of mine rocked the catwalk in a fabulous outfit), a silent auction, hors-d’oeuvres, wine and an amazing group of women working towards their future success. The walls of the venue were lit with the pillars of their foundation, reminding us of the powerful traits we possess and how they can transform our lives – courage, bravery, awareness, healing, power, self-esteem, fearlessness, and dignity. I watched each word flash onto the wall, and it occurred to me that those very messages were also the essence of living life with a chronic illness.
It takes courage to live a life in the face of disease, to leave behind what is familiar and comfortable, to start again, and rebuild a new world. It takes bravery to admit that when life pushes us into corners, we sometimes need a little help getting out of them; it takes a certain resolve to open ourselves up, tell our story, and purge our feelings; it takes confidence to make it through the day with dignity when our bodies are turning against us; it takes strength and power to transform our lives into our own vision. It takes fearlessness to face what RA, or any other chronic condition, can throw at us from day to day, month to month, and year to year.
We are often quiet in our courage using these traits without being consciously aware of them. They are the natural instincts we sometimes suppress, even though they are always bubbling on the surface. We marvel at those who pull themselves from the bed every morning and get on with their day. We wonder how they do it. We spend so much time flying below the radar, squashing our complaints, trying to be as normal as possible, we forget that we possess the same resilience. There’s a certain valour we pluck from an unknown place that forges our greatest moments in living with disease.
The challenges of chronic illness can steal our energy and self-esteem, but where one attribute falls short, there are others in place to pick up the slack – power, healing, awareness and fearlessness. We pull these things from the world around us and within us. We may not be aware of it, but are always given enough to manage whatever challenges life chooses to send us – sometimes we just need a little help finding it.
Sometimes the writing really is on the wall.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.