Who I Used to Be

By Maureen DeGarmo

There is no doubt that illness changes a person, but are those changes all negative? I have been trying to reconcile my pre-illness self with my current self, and to figure out what I have learned from my journey.

Joy: Joy is a feeling of delight or glee. Experiencing joy uplifts the spirit. Joy can brighten your day, and if you’re lucky it can carry over to the next day. I have a friend who has been battling cancer for several years, and he told me that his goal is to make at least one person laugh every day. But, it’s difficult to find joy when you don’t feel good. It seems to me that my younger self found joy more easily, and more often. I still try to find things that delight me, but I have to make a conscious effort to do so. I try to avoid movies that depress me and say yes to outside activities that will make me laugh. But, it does not seem to come as naturally as it used to.

Achievement: when I was a child, I was an over-achiever: striving to get all A’s in school and making sure that everything I needed to complete got done to very high standards. As a young adult, I was still a perfectionist to some degree, but that deep desire for perfection diminished long ago. Who has the energy? My current stance is that when you find yourself waiting until you have the energy to clean the house, and the perfectionist side of you tells you to wait until you feel good enough to make it perfect, then it will never happen. As we teach in our Illness Warriors Seminar, “Done is Better than Perfect.” My illness has indeed relaxed the achiever side of my personality. In some ways that’s good, but it also feels like my inspiration has decreased along with it.

Spirit: When I was in school, my psychology teacher asked us to list all the assignments that we had completed to earn a particular grade. My teacher was likeable and a good instructor but had a habit of changing the subject quite frequently during class. So, on my grade-requirements list, I included the fact that I was the only person who had the courage to keep a tally of how many times he had interrupted himself during a lecture (he responded to my little stunt with good humor). Little did I know that he had connections at the local newspaper and surprised me with a write-up in the gossip column.

That ‘spirited young woman’ feels like a distant memory. Although I certainly don’t have the energy that I did then, I have learned patience and calm, and to hold my tongue when I am angry or frustrated.

Creative: I used to love to craft, sew and create things. I enjoyed the process of design and seeing the finished result of something I had made. The down-side of crafting is cleaning up the mess, which of course requires more energy than I now have. Instead, I do creative work on my computer, such as PowerPoint design (which does not make a mess).

Sometimes I grieve for the joyful, creative, spirited person I used to be. Sometimes, I am thankful that I have grown. Either way, I recognize that life is not a straight line, but a series of ups and downs.

How has your illness changed you? Have those changes been both negative and positive? What have you learned about yourself?

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