This is in some ways a follow up to “I refuse to live in fear.” The NY Times has a brief interview with the author of a new book, After the Diagnosis: Transcending Chronic Illness. This is something near and dear to my heart because I live with chronic illness. The author, Seifter, who is himself a person with a chronic illness (diabetes, in his case), says that people with chronic disease should exercise some denial. That’s right, denial! A healthy denial is a good thing, he says, “within reason,” because “everyone needs the chance to forget their disease for a while and think of other things. Otherwise, they can become their disease.”
This is another way that I refuse to live in fear. I refuse to live in illness. Oh, my illness impacts me all the time, sometimes more, sometimes less, and that doesn’t go away with my denial. Denial doesn’t make me able to run, it doesn’t make me less tired when I get tired, or less dizzy when I get dizzy. But it does help me deal with those things. Denial is, in fact, a kind of magic, in the Wiccan sense. Not the magic that fixes all my problems, poof!, with a wave of my wand, but the kind of magic that makes life better; more filled with love, more meaningful, and yes, even physically less painful.
On that last point, there’s a specific kind of denial that’s extremely healthy. I think of it as shifting my focus. It’s part of the way I’ve learned to deal with pain from my chronic illness. When I have pain, the more I concentrate on the pain, the worse it gets. I have to shift my focus away from it. I don’t say “La la la, I don’t hurt!” because that’s not the point. I acknowledge it and then refuse to let it dominate my experience. Sometimes I do that by meditating, even briefly. Sometimes I distract myself with something else engaging. It doesn’t always work perfectly, but it goes a long way towards relieving the pain without medication most of the time and helping me tolerate whatever remains. It’s not that my pain is purely psychologically controlled, either in starts or stops, but I can control my response to it, and that helps my experience of it. It’s magical enough for me – and certainly works better than the docs’ best attempts to medicate me for it, so far.
I also refuse to let my illness dominate my life in other ways. Yes, I have to make adaptations and accommodations; so does my husband, and so do my friends and extended family and others I interact with. But one of the ways that an adaptation can be most successful is when it becomes nearly invisible. I use a wake-up light instead of an alarm clock; no problem. I don’t have to think about that every day now, so I am not reminded of my illness every time I set my alarm. And when it does remind me, I can shift my focus away from it, not in an “everything’s okay now” kind of way, but in a way that acknowledges the change and refuses to dwell on it.
I refuse to let just one aspect of my life dominate the others; I choose, to the best of my ability, how to define my life, my environment, my interactions. I recognize that I have more choices than are obvious, and among other things, I can create new choices for myself by redirecting my attention. That ability to direct my attention is one of the fundamental skills of magic, and this is why. Magic isn’t all about showy results – most of it is about what we do and who we are every day.