In 1993, after two years of illness, I was finally diagnosed with M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), an illness now often referred to as CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) or CFIDS (Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome). In 1995 I became so ill that I was completely bedbound with a commode by the bed, unable to feed myself and needing to drink through a straw. I was in this situation for 14 years with a very inadequate level of care. I was alone 20 hours a day or more, without the ability to hold a phone conversation or use a computer. I could feel my sense of self worth dropping and I knew that in order to continue to fight to stay alive I must maintain a sense of my value.
Sometimes we improve our self worth by what we do well in the world. But, unable to feed myself and totally dependent on others, there was no task I could carry out with ease or competence, including talking, writing or watching TV. It is common to define our self worth by what we can offer to others. But, in a time of illness I did not feel I could offer much to others at all. Often we improve our self worth through the positive ways in which we are treated by others. Many people contributed an amazing amount of time and effort to my care. Nonetheless, I spent upwards of 20 hours a day bedbound and alone. The amount and quality of care I received often did not help to improve my self worth. We may also compare ourselves and our success to that of others to improve self worth. My situation was not one that felt or was perceived as successful! So how did I, and how can you, improve self worth in a time of illness?
For me, spiritual beliefs, spiritual practice and spiritual experience all played their part. I had been brought up with the spiritual belief that we are all of inherent value. I had cultivated this belief through the practice of seeing the Christ in others and through the practice of forgiveness. My ability to see the worth in others along with my belief in our equality in the eyes of God encouraged me to accept my own self worth. The practice of forgiveness was essential to me. If you are lying still, in silence and in pain, you have only your own mind to which to listen. I developed an exercise for releasing judgement which I practiced over and over to find inner peace. Spiritual practice, including that of forgiveness, led me to experience a peace and joy that does not depend on this world, and which this world cannot give. Whenever I touched this joy regardless of circumstances I knew myself to be free. This experience let me know that the world I see is not the true reality.
This world may push you to give up or to define your value negatively by how you are treated or how bad your body feels. Yet you can refuse to do so. You can choose to believe that you are loved by God and you are a part of Love itself. I use the term ‘self’ worth, but please know that, in many ways, my journey has been one of shifting from self worth to knowing my worth through my spiritual identity as part of God and as one in Christ. It is a seeming paradox that as we drop the ‘self’, improved self worth naturally results – a sense of worth that flows not from what we do but from the knowledge of our existence as part of All That Is.
If you are living with illness, you can improve self worth by knowing that you are not just this body that is experiencing pain or other symptoms. You are far more than this. You are Love itself. And because you are part of this Love, this Joy, this Peace, you have an inherent value that can never be lost. When invited to hate or to despair, you can practice love. As you do so, more and more you will come to know that you are the Love you practice. Through your spiritual practice, this will move from being an interesting idea to being a living reality in your life.
Take it from me, whatever your level of health… you are valuable.
This is an adapted extract from Katherine’s journey as a Radiant Survivor. Her entire story of how she radiantly survives when living with illness and lack of care is included in my book Radiant Survivor.
My book Radiant Survivor (coming November 19th, 2013) is a story of the journey to higher consciousness of 14 survivors of life-altering experiences, such as stroke, cancer, abuse, addiction and many other life traumas. I hope you’ll subscribe to this blog in the form at the top of this page so we can tell you about our exciting (free) telesummit coming November 12th – 14th, with a panel of wonderful guest speakers including Dr. Bernie Siegel, Allison Maslan, Mal Duane, Deb Scott and many others.
ERICA TUCCI had a full life as a corporate manager of a Fortune 500 company, a healing arts business owner and an author of three books. It all came to a screeching halt in June 2011 when she had a stroke that left her completely paralyzed on her right side. During Erica’s recovery, she gained much wisdom about what’s really important in life, and she re-entered the world with a new mission: to use her story as an inspiration for others facing life challenges, which we all have, big or small. That story can be found in Erica’s new book, Radiant Survivor: How to Shine and Thrive through Recovery from Stroke, Cancer, Abuse, Addiction and Other Life-Altering Experiences, launching on November 19th, 2013.