Before my illness took hold, I did not reflect much on matters of the soul. I'm not a philosopher by nature; I'm a scientist, concerned with facts. Concepts like self-development and inner healing belonged to the intense shamanic sorts, who meditated three times a day and waved around incense. Such things were not important for my journey then; my journey was simple and straight, without any meandering diversions, no pitstops, in fact, no “stops” at all. It was an all-consuming, intense race towards a glowing career, sometimes an arduous trek, sometimes an exhilarating sprint, but mainly a head-spinning race towards this remote idea of self-fulfilment and academic success. It wasn’t a sprint without obstacles; I was a seasoned runner with enough skill to anticipate and leap over the obstacles, and to shield myself from any unwelcome intrusions along my path. Adversity was not something I feared, just something I had learned to wilfully fight against with every fibre of my being and every ounce of my physical strength, with a fierce sort of defiance.
But as soon as that straight path started to blur and the strength in my legs began to wane, I felt everything buckle in spite of my mental focus and determination. The funny thing is that it wasn’t fear, laziness, or the desire to follow a different path, which caused this buckling of strength. It wasn’t lack of resolve. It was a minute, almost imperceptible, ink-black tick. The tick latched onto my body as I ran and infused my blood with its invisible toxicity. The whole thing is almost comical. There I was, a fully-abled, ambitious, youthful woman with a tantalising path and a bucket list, and here was this teensy, seemingly insignificant tick. If you could gamble on which possessed the power to defeat the other, which would you place your money on?
And so, chronic Lyme disease was the absurd, completely unforeseen prelude to a different chapter of my life. Funnily enough, it is this chapter by which I hold the most store, the chapter in which I digress from the jaded tale of the driven over-achiever. If you glance superficially as you pass by, you might perceive a chapter defined by chronic illness and a pitiful battle. A chapter full of emotional and physical pain, punctuated by endless set-backs. But the story goes deeper, the truth lies beyond what you can simply perceive at the surface. The biggest truth that lay hidden is that the tick, in its act of destruction, has transformed my journey: from a mindless sprint to a self-reflective hike of endurance.
No one likes to be confronted by their biggest vulnerability or to feel the extent of their limitations; it is a sore exposition from which many spend their entire lives running away. In fact, it is something which, had I been given the choice, I might still be doing. But when illness forces you to stop sprinting, to pause and to take in the view, your perspective changes. You are acutely aware of your vulnerabilities: you feel them on a visceral level in the form of physical depletion. Accepting yourself, even when you have fallen down or been defeated on the track, is something which will change how you exploit your energy. It teaches you to face your vulnerability, to stop expending your limited energy on angry defiance of the obstacles, and to redirect it towards you.
My ambition now is different to what drove me before. While I still yearn for success and self-fulfilment, the way in which I access and unlock these ambitions will never be the same, and for that change I am grateful. Life should not be a mindless sprint. Life is full of so many small, evasive opportunities for self-education; they invade your path, and unless you slow down, you will not perceive them. If unprepared, you may miss out on more than just a few valuable life lessons, but also on the beautiful vistas, the incredible people, and your own body’s miraculous gift of endurance.
I suffer from an invisible chronic illness. This is a daily struggle. This is endless and indescribable pain. This is everything you have already heard lamented a thousand times. But through the suffering, chronic illness has taught me the biggest lesson of my life. If you cannot pause to self-reflect, if you cannot embrace the opportunity to accept yourself in the fullness of your vulnerability, you are fighting an uphill battle against your own human limitations. Despite what one might think, learning to redirect your energy does not jeopardise your success, but can in fact lead to your own liberation.