On Finding Joy In The Face Of Illness

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Hello dear friends!

A few nights ago, I got another valuable reminder about the importance of perspective. You know how the Universe sends certain individuals or circumstances your way, to wake you up now and then? Yeah…that. I was on a fun little date to my favorite dinner theatre- a place that has been special to me for over 15 years (support the arts, people!) and I noticed a man sitting by himself at the table next to mine. He appeared to be about my age, and I’m going to guess he was somewhere on the neuroatypical spectrum (I’m no expert here) based upon his stature, mannerisms, and social cues.

As the performance got underway, I found myself tuning into his reactions, as he applauded and commented to himself with such unbridled enthusiasm. At one point, during the intermission, he turned to me with a humongous grin on his face and asked if I knew that the actors were also our servers. I responded that I did, and that I had been coming to the theatre for a long time, and wasn’t it fantastic? He shook his head in absolute agreement, pure delight on his face. During the second act, as the energy and music reached an even higher level of awesome, this young man’s exuberance was palpable.

I heard him whoop after each number, and make remarks about how awesome and great and exciting and fantastic this show was, and how amazing and talented and cool and super the actors were. It was incredible to witness this human being, seated next to me, taking in the same experience as I was, but not filtering his total and utter happiness whatsoever. The performance truly deserved all that praise, and more (it was so good, I saw it twice), and the whole night really got me thinking about something.

About joy. Pure, unabashed joy.

About that feeling you get when you’re fully present and aware of what’s going on around you, when you’ve plugged yourself into the electrical current of aliveness. About the ebullience that runs through your muscles and bones when you’ve witnessed something beautiful or breathtaking. About the sensation of bringing yourself, open-hearted and tender, to this moment, here and now, standing naked in front of all the sights and sounds and smells that are being offered. About the capturing of a specific experience, crystallized in time and space, that never fails to bring a smile to your face and a warmth to your cheeks. About those moments in life that you feel completely aligned, completely connected, completely content.

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When is the last time you experienced unabashed joy? I’ll be honest with you, it doesn’t happen all that often for me, but it definitely happens more than it used to. And I noticed, many times in the past, but more so lately, that most people don’t associate the words “joy” and “chronic illness.” It’s like the two simply don’t go together, and that those of us living with health challenges must be in a constant state of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and overall pessimism. (Psst- someone that experiences anxiety, sadness, and fear can also experience exhilaration, pleasure, and joy. It’s like we’re all complex human beings with a wide range of feelings. Who knew!)

I actually included this “phenomenon,” that you can experienced joy even while ill, on my list in the 7 Things I’ve Learned In My 6 Years Of Illness blog post a couple of years back. And it’s actually been one of the most important things I’ve come to understand since getting sick- that not every day will be miserable, and that my body/mind/spirit are, in fact, still capable of feeling joy, exuberance, and delight. What a huge shift in perspective that was for me at the time!

This is not to say that suddenly the clouds parted and my pain was gone or blah-blah-blah. Nope. My life continued on, and I honestly spent a great deal of time somewhere between listlessness and barely-concealed rage. After all, it’s not f*cking easy to have a chronic illness that saps your energy, fogs your brain, disrupts your sleep, and makes your body feel like it’s been run through a few tumble cycles in an industrial drying machine. There are days when everything is harder than it should be, and the exhaustion and irritability rise up to take the steering wheel. And it feels downright impossible to find the joy in anything. And hey, that’s okay, by the way. We’re all human. This post is not about forcibly morphing yourself into a bubbling, smiling, positivity monster, and pushing down all of your other feelings. It’s about allowing ourselves to feel, to truly feel, the happiness, excitement, and satisfaction that we’re still capable of feeling, no matter what other people may think. And that’s right- people will have thoughts about it.

For those who don’t have firsthand experience: when you think about someone with a chronic illness, what do you see? Do you picture a sad, frumpy-looking individual, shuffling through their cluttered home, clutching their body in pain? Even if your mental image isn’t quite that extreme, I’m going to guess that it’s not an image of a young, bright-eyed person with a huge smile on their face, chest flushed with exhilaration or from the exertion of laughing too much. And yet, each example could be indicative of someone with a longstanding health condition. They could even be the same person, just on two different days!

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The thing is, our culture tends to put people in boxes, and those people who are “sick” can’t be, or shouldn’t be, happy, and on the flipside, those who appear happy or joyful surely can’t be sick. It’s common to face harsh judgments, criticism, and even dismissal of your illness altogether, when you seem like you’re having a great time. I’ll never forget one woman who witnessed me in a moment of joy, and after striking up a conversation with me and learning about my health issues, responded with, “but you look so happy!” Insert eye roll.

But back to the idea of experiencing joy, regardless of your current health status. As I was preparing to write this post, I realized that I approach joy from two different angles, and I think that both are valuable in their own right: meeting joy, and cultivating joy. Whether or not you struggle with illness or disability, I believe that working with both of these ideas is key.


Meeting Joy

Joy is already present, ripe, and ready for the taking. It’s already there, knocking on the door and asking us to join in on the fun. All we need to do is open up and meet it. This is a practice of recognizing joy in the little things all around us, and finding happiness and gratitude in things that spontaneously arise.

This energy is passive, receptive, thankful, and willing.

Cultivating Joy

Joy is something that we can create, through practices of mindfulness, free expression, and self-care. We can actively invite more excitement and fulfillment into our lives, by the choices we make and the mindset with which we meet those choices. This is all about seeking and finding experiences that make us feel richer inside.

This energy is active, adventurous, steadfast, and open-minded.


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To really feel joy, we must also be in touch with our bodies and not dissociated from the present moment. Granted, this kind of embodiment comes with practice, but things like yoga/movement, meditation, journaling, earthing, and other physically-focused, centering activities can help get you there. Which are all wonderful and healing, whether you’re dealing with a chronic illness or not!

So, friends, consider this your invitation to open up to both experiencing and expressing more joy. Pain or no. Fatigue or no. Brain fog or no.

You are still you, an incredible, powerful, multi-faceted human being, and you deserve all the juicy goodness that life has to offer, even if you have to experience it from your bedroom, or only for a few minutes at time.

Joy is out there. Let’s find it!

Wishing you more moments that take your breath away. And of course…

~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~