STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Commentator Toni Bernhard has been living with a chronic illness for the last 10 years.
TONI BERNHARD (Author, How to Be Sick): In 2001, I had the next couple of decades of my life mapped out. I'd be teaching law, visiting my children, and attending Buddhist meditation retreats.
Suddenly, everything changed. I got sick with flu-like symptoms. A doctor said it appeared to be an acute viral infection.
I have yet to recover. The infection has left me mostly housebound, and often bed-bound.
For the first few years of being sick, I lived in what I can only describe as a state of shock. When I didnt recover, I blamed myself. It took me almost six years to find my way back to a life of fulfillment and joy. The journey started when I looked more deeply at the Buddhas first noble truth: Everyones life has its share of both joy and suffering. Resisting the plain fact of my illness only added mental suffering to the physical suffering.
And I remembered something a teacher had said: If your compassion doesnt include yourself, it is incomplete. This was a turning point for me. Slowly but surely, I stopped blaming myself for getting sick. I also took up a Buddhist practice called mudita: cultivating joy in the joy of others. I hoped it would be an antidote to the painful envy that overcame me when I heard of other people going to family gatherings, or even a movie. I didnt always succeed. I kept working at it, though, and gradually, the feeling of joy in others joy became genuine. Now when my husband visits our children and grandchildren, I feel as if hes there for both of us.
One of the toughest challenges was accepting isolation. But over time, I learned to open my heart and mind to being by myself. Ive had to be inventive. Instead of traveling to see my children, I stay close to them by instant messaging and texting. Ive traded the role of teacher for that of student, by studying classical music and opera.
It has taken several years and many tears to learn how to thrive in my new life. I still have rough days, when I wish I could do whatever I want. But really, who can do that anyway? On the whole, Im content and at peace with what I can do, even if its from the bed.
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INSKEEP: Commentator Toni Bernhard is the author of How to Be Sick.
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