I can’t believe I’m going to tackle the meaning of life at 7am on a Wednesday morning before I’ve even eaten breakfast and with severe brain fog, but I like a challenge 😉
Most of us spend our lives searching for meaning and purpose. It’s so easy to trudge along on the treadmill of existence, repeating the same steps each day yet going nowhere, and in the blink of an eye we’re 70 and wondering what our life has all been about. I’m sure that’s why most people have children – to give their life meaning – while others are married to jobs or causes. It’s difficult enough to find a reason for existence when we’re healthy, and a different kettle of fish altogether when we’re ill, having a family is out of reach and we’re unable to work or take part in society as healthy people do.
When I was bedridden with M.E., lying alone in solitary confinement for 23 hours each day for years on end, I had to find some meaning to my life or I might as well have just topped myself. I’ve always had rescue pets and at the time I first became ill I had a cat, Pudding. He needed me and without him I had no reason to stay alive – he saved my life on more than one occasion.
After a couple of years I joined an online M.E. support group and eventually became involved in the running of the group and its website. Sharing my story with other sufferers, particularly those new to the disease, gave purpose to my suffering and it’s something I’ve done ever since – if I can help just one person not to feel alone then the effort involved is worth it.
Over the years I’ve written several articles in charity magazines and my story has appeared in the press. I try and educate whenever I can because there is so much misunderstanding and lack of empathy for people with not only my diseases but chronic, invisible illnesses in general, and that can only be changed through education.
I’ve also taken part in various research projects so that hopefully people with my diseases in years to come won’t suffer the way I’ve had to.
I can both knit and crochet, so for all the hours I am forced to spend in bed I make items for charities, particularly the knit-a-square foundation in Africa. Helping others less fortunate than myself is a reminder to count my blessings – I may be sick but at least I’m not an orphan with AIDS living next to a public sewer in a shanty town in the baking heat and surviving on less than $1 a day.
When my last cat died, and I had started to improve somewhat from M.E., I took on a rescue dog instead! Abandoned animals are out there in their millions waiting for a loving home, so it’s a win win – they need me and I need them.
As I entered my forties first my Mum got really sick and then my Dad, so I was forced to take on the role of Carer. It’s not something I would have chosen but I didn’t hesitate because I love them and it gave my life new purpose. It’s not been easy and can be really stressful but they spent years looking after me when I was really poorly and now it is my turn to look after them.
In my late forties I discovered photography. It’s really the only thing in decades I’ve done solely for me rather than to help other people. Having any kind of creative hobby feeds the soul and for the first time in years I woke up excited for the day ahead. I now also give back, teaching as a volunteer and sharing my passion for photography as a guest speaker.
I’ve also, over the years, provided employment for 9 people as either cleaners or dog walkers. And while it’s tempting to think of ourselves as burdens on the NHS and social services we also help provide employment for doctors, nurses, social workers, OTs, physios and all the other people involved in our care not to mention the companies from whom I buy equipment, aids and adaptations – yes we need them but without sick people they’d all be unemployed, let’s not forget that.
I was bedridden for a decade and still spend 18 hours of every day under the duvet. It’s easy to think of myself as useless, a burden and unable to contribute to society but that’s not the case. I possibly have time to contribute more to society than someone with a couple of kids who works full time! The biggest stumbling block is society’s view on what constitutes meaning. If earning shit loads of cash and popping out a couple of mini me’s is what makes a life successful then I’ve failed miserably. If educating, advancing research, helping others, caring for the sick and elderly, looking after abandoned animals and sharing passion through art is what constitutes a meaningful life then I think I’ve done OK.
To pinch a recent quote from my friend and fellow blogger over at Musings of a Dysautonomiac
“It is here that we encounter the central theme of existentialism: to live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering.” – Viktor Frankl