This week’s Thing That Helps is a book: “How To Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide For the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers” by Toni Bernhard. A few years ago when I first checked this book out of the library, I held it between two fingers, out and away from my body. Like the idea of learning to be sick was something I could catch. I placed the book on the mantle and literally glared at it whenever I was in the same room. I didn’t read it. I didn’t even open it. Then I returned it with a great deal of anger, slamming the little metal door to the after hours library return slot. Then I went about my life thinking, “Well, it’s a good thing I didn’t put myself through reading that.”
This time when I checked it out, I opened it. But only because I had to. Coincidently, 24 hours after getting the book I became even more . . . unwell. My fibromyalgia flared up and I was stuck in bed. I had read my last “Vampire Academy” book and was number 23 out of 24 on the library waiting lister for the next one. The other book I was reading was in my car. So I cracked open “How To Be Sick” and sighed.
100 pages later I looked up. I began to wonder how I could make Toni Bernhard my new best friend. Or, at the very least, my new best email friend. I wondered if it would be too much to cut her picture out of the back of the book, frame it, and build a little alter around it. I pictured something with flowers . . . But then I realized that (gasp!) it was a library book and I couldn’t very well cut it up. So I bought my own copy off amazon. And I’m clinging to it like a life raft.
The book is engaging, authentic, and, above all, helpful. Toni offers many practices/strategies (mindfulness, meditations, thought reframing, decision making) for getting through the day. But it’s more than that. The book has eased some of the awfulness that goes along with chronic illness. I feel less pressure and less emotional pain. It’s easier to be kind to myself and my situation. For the first time, I am feeling moments of okay-ness with where I’m at. I don’t feel that I have to be more well, more energetic, more of anything.
True, I’m still having trouble saying the s-word, saying that I’m sick. But that will come. Or it won’t. But either way I know I will be okay. And that’s nothing to sneeze at.