Have you ever been tempted to just pretend that the life you are living is different than the reality? If you have, you can quickly imagine a new life by just hanging out for a few minutes with a 6-year-old. Since my son seems to want loads of interaction around any scenario that is different than the one he is having. Each sentence seems to start with “Mom, let’s pretend…”
- In just the last few weeks I have pretended to be a chef, mailman, grocery store clerk, librarian, waitress, and a clerk at a DVD rental place.
- He’s been a stranger knocking on our front door with the 3D glasses from a movie (that he wouldn’t even wear during the film.)
- He’s been Indiana Jones while I’ve been his cute side-kick.
- I’ve pretended I am a gardener who comes to shape his shrubs into topiaries.
- We’ve leaned in over a pretend microphone, imagining ourselves starring on American Idol singing songs of those Beach “Guys” (His cute description).
- And over and over I’ve been asked to “pretend I am scared.” I’ve pretended to be frightened by fake roaches, rubber lizards, and a giant squid. Thankfully all items were plastic or my reaction would not have had to have been forced.
It is always interesting to see what scenario he will envision next and he is not shy about claiming the roles of director, producer, and of course, the leading man. If he can learn to write music we’ll have a little Clint Eastwood on our hands. (But of course, he’d prefer to be Harrison Ford. You can’t beat the man who is the star in both Star Wars and Indiana Jones.)
Each scene we act out he seems to think I can improve upon, and so the director in him makes us do it over and over. I try to be creative, but sometimes I just want to toss aside the Indy and go buy myself a Barbie. At least I could brush her hair.
A few times after we’ve done “Take 7,” creatively fatigued and I’ve told him, “Mommy is tired of pretending to be scared. I just want to rest. Go get Daddy.”
What does all of this have to do with chronic illness? Are you asking yourself, “How does this story impact me dealing with chronic illness?” I think living with a chronic illness involves a certain balance of having the ability to pretend.
A pharmaceutical company has a new commercial on television for a medication that treats rheumatoid arthritis, the illness I have. And I can say it is finally a commercial that makes sense to me. It shows a split screen with the woman on the left side, before taking her medication and she is not able to participate in activities she once did. After taking her medication, she slides over to the right side of the screen, where her family is having dinner. Now she is able to participate. It’s nice to see the right side of the screen having an every day activity too; no sky diving or water-skiing, just dinner with people she loves.
Sometimes we aren’t able to find any medication or treatment that can help us cross over to the side of life that we’d like to be living, but we can pretend. What do I mean?
There are moments when I don’t feel like participating in anything. I don’t want to “go do something fun.” I don’t want to get out of the house. I feel terrible. I am aching and just want quiet. But we still have to take the step forward sometimes and just “pretend” we do. We have to choose to go through the motions. And guess what? The results may actually come as a surprise!
Take for example an outing to go fishing. When my parents visited this summer we wanted to make sure Papa got to take my son down to the little local lake and fish off the dock. During the last visit they had bought all the gear and so were completely prepared. We joyfully packed a picnic lunch and all the fishing paraphernalia and got to the lake to find that it was “closed for fishing Mondays.” I didn’t realize the fish had a Sabbath too!
Before they left for their visit, we were determined to fit it into the schedule and so one night we planned to rush over before dusk and let Josh throw his line in the water. My husband walked in the door from work and we said, “Get in the other car. We’re going to the lake.”
I was sore. I would have “preferred” to have just stayed home. I had already seen the lake that week and I couldn’t walk down to the fishing dock to watch them anyway, but I knew my son wanted “the whole family” to go and so I went.
And you know what? The lake was beautiful. It was peaceful. It was rejuvenating to just get out of the house. I will be back soon. The table we sat at overlooking the lake from the patio at the tackle shop was the perfect place to sit and work on writing a book.
When we are dealing with a chronic illness we are given a body that seems to have a voice of its own and it is not afraid to use it, telling us things like, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, stop, it’s not safe, you really shouldn’t, just get some rest, this is not a good idea, skip it this time at least.”
It’s shrewd to know when to heed this guidance, for example you never want to push yourself during chronic post-surgical pain. But if you try to do it all, you will make your illness even worse and never learn the art of boundaries and energy conservation. And this is something you need to know to live a successful life with a chronic illness.
But you also need to know when to turn off that little voice. Too often chronic pain, especially fibromyalgia, is treated with depression medication. So make the choice to say, “Yes, why not? Go for it; It’s okay; I will be careful;” and of course, “I’ll just pretend.”
While I am not promoting denial of your emotions, especially if you are enduring a deep depression, many studies done around the world have shown that having an optimistic attitude can increase your health and even you life span. One study discovered that pessimists were actually 3 times more likely to have heart attacks or repeat surgical heart procedures within 6 months. So how you think does make a difference.
There are formal books with many steps toward chronic illness management, but really, with a few choices, you may realize that you are moving over to the right side of the “screen.” Step by step, you are coming closer to the life that you wanted to live.
Lisa Copen is the founder of Rest Ministries and she lives in San Diego with her husband and son. She is gradually learning how to balance motherhood, family, illness, and ministry, but she still knows it will be a lifetime lesson. You can see the books she has written, including, Why Can’t I Make People Understand? at the Rest Ministries shop.