I was having a conversation with my fiancé yesterday about maturing and being less self-centered, and it got me thinking. A trait we associate with the elderly is being wise. But although we know wisdom comes with age, what if it also comes with being less able-bodied?* I may sound crazy to you, but entertain my idea for now.
I find myself thinking, when I am in a darker mood, what my life would be like without any physical limitations: to have boundless spoons, to not think through every action. I try not to let myself go there, but there are times you just can’t help it. And I usually come out with the conclusion that I love who I am and I would be completely different without my illness because it has changed how I think and live. I truly believe it has made me wiser.
Compared to others my age, my priorities are different. My outlook on life is definitely different. Unlike many of my peers, I don’t partake in almost any risky behaviors. Going out all night and getting drunk, or trying an extreme sport, or even just driving fast are things that I can’t do. Some might think I’m missing out. Maybe I am. But I’ve had to readjust my outlook and goals for what I know I can handle. I know my physical and psychological limitations better than pretty much anyone I know. If that’s not wise, I don’t know what is.
I can’t distract myself with exciting things. I don’t treat my body like it will be young and carefree forever. Instead of using my body to have fun exciting experiences, which I just can’t do, I spend a lot of time thinking and reflecting. I take care of myself and I know my mind inside and out.
Talking to others my age, it seems to me they just go with the flow. They don’t know how to say no. They keep people in their lives that may not be good for them. They do things they don’t like to fit in. They don’t know what they need in a relationship or how to ask for it. They don’t know how to love themselves.
I am not afforded the luxury of going with the flow. I don’t have the energy to say yes to everything or to deal with people who make my life harder. I know my needs and I can communicate. I love myself more than anyone else I know. There isn’t much of a flow in my life; physically I am always walking against the flow and it isn’t easy. Dealing with this struggle of mine has made me learn what I need and what to do about it.
Now I’m not saying there is anything wrong with being able-bodied. All I’m saying is that when you can’t have crazy reckless fun in your 20’s, it can make you wiser faster than those who can. And there is nothing wrong with that. Different life circumstances dictate different actions.
As humans, we are extremely adaptable. We adjust to situations to the best of our ability. We learn new skills. Maybe being wise is a skill for those who are not able-bodied. Being unable to do “normal” activities takes a lot of adjustment and reflection. We adapt. We become wiser.
You could make the argument that going through any kind of struggle makes you wiser. I definitely think that’s true. One part of wisdom comes from experience. But for those with chronic illnesses, wisdom comes from realizing your own limitations, accepting them, and adapting. Wisdom comes from stepping outside the cultural norms for your peer group and learning more about yourself and what you can handle and enjoy. Those who are able-bodied don’t have to learn their own limitations until they age. I learned mine when I was 17.
Sometimes I feel chronic illness has taken a lot away from me. But in all honesty, it has given me so much more than it has taken. So, to my body, I say: thanks for the wisdom.
*I am speaking from my own experience of having physical limitations. This in no way means that chronic illnesses do not include mental illnesses that still leave you able-bodied. For those with mental illnesses, just replace able-bodied with people who don’t have mental illnesses.