Chapter 9

The Gift of Chronic Illness

Chronic illness isn't a gift in the traditional sense of the word. We don't want it or need it, it never fits, and we can't take it back. Only the most idealistic among us would say that we are grateful to be sick. But once we become ill, we can resent and reject the experience, or we can learn from it. Just as an individual with a terminal illness may come to appreciate the quality of the life he or she has left, those of us with a chronic disease often find meaning in our pain. We discover hidden strengths, find a new sense of direction, or adopt healthier habits.

I don't believe we become sick because we need to learn these lessons. Most of us could lead perfectly happy lives without a chronic disease! But I do think that our illness, and the way we approach it, can teach us more about ourselves. "When illness comes, it is, or can be, an invitation to move more deeply into our own lives," writes Dr. James S. Gordon. In this final chapter, we'll explore how ill health can spur us to spiritual and emotional growth and healthier living.