The following is a quote from experts in the field of “Appreciative Inquiry,” a technique used in coaching (as well as other endeavors) which draws on the best of the past to inspire the present and create a better future.
“We see what we look for and we miss much of
what we are not looking for even though it is
there… Our experience of the world is heavily
influenced by where we place our attention.”
Stavros and Torres
How can we apply this to our quest of living well within the context of a chronic illness?
The challenge in writing about this topic is to not come off sounding like a rose-tinted fluff producer. Believe me, I understand that a chronic disease brings with it significant struggle, frequent frustration, and unsettling uncertainty. Sometimes, when someone tells me that I should “look for the positive” in a situation that seems unbearable, I get downright mad. “THERE IS NOTHING POSITIVE HERE,” I want to scream. In fact, until the initial emotion is confronted and worked through, my visual field can include nothing positive about the situation. I don’t believe I am alone regarding this.
So step one in looking for the “opportunity” in a health challenge must be confronting and understanding the grief, anger and fear that accompanies illness. You can’t ignore or look past these valid emotions in order to get to the other side, where opportunity lies.
As I write this, my brother Tom lays in a hospice house in Omaha, Nebraska, where he will spend his last days and weeks before succumbing to cystic fibrosis. I love my brother more than I can describe. He has been a role model to me, an example of how a fighting, stubborn spirit can overcome lungs that have been failing him for over a decade. He has been like the Eveready Bunny for over 10 years, refusing to stop and give up, despite pulmonary function numbers that would cause most people to roll over and die. Instead, Tom has maintained a job, maintained friendships, and continued to amaze his healthcare team (and family) with his resiliency.
Now that my PICC is out, I am traveling to see Tom in a week, to say good-bye and to tell him how much I love him. There are obviously a lot of emotions to work through here…I am very sad, and I am very afraid of what I will see when I walk into his room. But there is absolutely no way of ceasing this opportunity to say good-bye without acknowledging and facing my own fear of looking at Death by CF. I have been letting this fear get in the way of getting close to Tom for years…just as I let it keep me from Kathy when she was ill. It is the same fear that made me cover my ears and go to the far reaches of the house when I was a young child, and Tom or Kathy was doing a treatment and coughing their brains out. I have been missing the opportunity of knowing my brother better, because I have let my own fear and sadness cover my heart. This has been a great example of how to not find opportunity in a bad situation…until now.
Fortunately, I see now that the reward of knowing and loving my brother will come with facing this fear, not avoiding it.
Similarly, the reward and opportunity found in any health challenge can only come after living with and through the emotion that accompanies it.