Living With CFIDS
Finding new meaning in life through spiritual focus
Finding new meaning in life
is key to coping with chronic
illness. In my experience with having chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS) and fibro-myalgia
for more than six years, this new meaning can be found through a painful but rewarding spiritual process
that could be compared to the death of who you were before and the birth of a completely new person.
who dwell on who they used to be, or who they had hoped to become, may fail to recognize that the person
they really are deep inside is a won-derful spiritual being, connected to others by the common bond of
Some people just don't like who they are now, and on a certain level that is understandable,
considering the throbbing headaches, joint pain and fatigue that persons with chronic fatigue and immune
dysfunction syndrome (PWCs) experience. After all, if the old person had been hard-working, athletic and
cognitively alert, it is understandable that some people might have diffi-culty accepting themselves as
so fatigued that they can't work full time, too wiped out to enjoy recreation and brain fogged at unexpected
moments. It may be only natural to dislike not knowing at what point in any day that the curtain will
close for you and you will have to go into a darkened room and rest.
But there is life beyond the
understanding of the person experiencing such dramatic lifestyle changes. And we often don't understand
what the meaning of that journey may be.
After all, the first mountain you have to climb after
you are diagnosed with CFIDS is overcoming the fear of what is going to happen to you now. Will you lose
the career that gives your life such meaning and joy? How will you cope financially? What will your family,
friends and co-workers think of you now? Will they just drift away as time passes because you live in
such different worlds the moment you become disabled by the disease?
These and many other questions
that arise are intimidating. The answers can sometimes be so chilling that fear is a natural response.
Those who can't cope with this at all decide they don't want to live any more after such a harsh rebirth.
But I know from my own experience and those of others that there can be a raising of spiritual consciousness
after a debilitating illness such as this.
Whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or
Buddhist-even if you travel outside the bounds of organized religion-you can have such moments of joy,
love and peace that you will realize the experience of chronic illness helped you grow spiritually. It
may be the case of having to know the bitter to really appreciate the sweet.
Meditation can help
start you down the path of spiritual growth. Suffering from excruci-ating headaches has made me appreciate
the time I have to enjoy the process of reflection. I find that my spiritual senses are quickened now
when I sit alone on a rock under a maple tree and breathe in the fresh scent of spring. That was my first
form of meditation, but a more organized, disciplined approach might be even more helpful.
what is meditation? "Meditation, correctly practiced, is the simple process of removing attention from
conditions and circumstances which, when cognitized and overly identified with, fragment and cloud our
perceptions," according to Roy Eugene Davis, author of An Easy Guide to Meditation. "Meditating,
while remaining alert and observant, enables us to easily experience pure (clear) levels of awareness
or states of consciousness."
In other words, it may help us see who we really are deep inside
our souls. And it may provide physiological and psychological rest, something PWCs need as well. It took
several years for me to realize that my life has meaning, even though I still have times when I think
I am not useful enough in this world. I still have symptoms that prevent me from doing what society would
call productive work, but I have learned to rest more quickly when needed.
And I have learned that,
if we are spiritual beings having a human experience, we can still be in the right place at the right
time to help another soul on their journey in life. Meditation can help you become more intuitive about
this, and whether you are Buddhist, Christian or of your own creation, it is one of the best elixirs for
the soul as well as your overall health.
If you don't have the motivation or discipline to start
the practice of meditation alone, try to find or create a group meditation in your community. Aside from
having the positive benefit of getting you out of your apartment or house, you also will experience sharing
the journey with the others in your group.
A friend of mine in California wrote me about how he
envied the time I have to meditate and reflect. You may notice how stressed out many people are who work
full time, overtime and extra-time in order to please themselves or pay the bills. So as long as you have
a chronic illness, I say enjoy your new life as best you can.
Tell yourself that you are fortunate
to be able to celebrate today as the first day of the rest of your life. It will help you bridge the psychological
gap between the "productive" working world you knew before and the world of chronic illness you are in
You say it is not a satisfying life? A University of Chicago professor has studied that subject
extensively and written about it in a book called FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
Mihaly Csikszentmihali says happiness cannot be reached by searching for it. It is reached by being fully
involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad. Obviously, the health of people with CFIDS
varies greatly depending upon a number of factors. But if you cannot be involved in every detail of your
life physically, shoot for as many as you can.
Some are more fortunate than others in having support
from their family for the things they cannot handle. I am one of the lucky ones having the support of
my wife and daughter.
And I know for sure that just being here, just existing, has a purpose beyond
our understanding. Someday, somewhere, we are going to be in just the right place at just the right time
to help someone else. It may be at the doctor's office, it may be on the Internet, but you will receive
such joy from being there and giving whatever you have to share of yourself.
As the great American
expert on mythology Joseph Campbell put it: "If we have filled up the beaker of life and allowed to catch
fire everything that needs to be consumed, then the quiet of old age is welcome. If too much life remains
unlived, we approach the threshold of old age with unsatisfied demands that turn our glances backward."Don't
let this illness make you look back. Look ahead with hope. Look ahead to the great adventure of your new
life, painful as it may be, at times, and joyful at other times.
See yourself as a traveler whose
journey has meaning beyond your understanding.
Reg Moore of Dunmore,
Pa., is a medically retired
journalist and theologian. He can be reached by E-mail at Moore98@juno.com
or by writing in care of the Chronicle.
As important as nutritional and lifestyle factors may be in healing, there
is increasing evidence that emotional and spiritual aspects of our lives may play an even larger role.
things such as group meditations or something as basic as learning to let go and forgive in your life
may have varying affects from just helping some symptoms to helping you heal more completely.
So consider the following resources as a partial list of aids:
Why People Donít Heal, with Caroline Myss (on the role of forgiveness in healing).
Weeks to Optimum Health, by Dr. Andrew Weil (on holistic health, also covers the value of meditation
and forgiveness in helping some symptoms).
The Blooming of a Lotus, by Thich Nhat
Hanh (guided meditations coordinating breathing techniques with visual images from this Vietnamese monk,
who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr.).
Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, by Richard J. Foster (focuses on issues such as simplicity,
meditation and solitude).