Not too long ago a friend asked me if I felt as if I had “gotten back to my old self after being sick.”  It took me a moment to respond to this loaded question, because I didn’t feel like I could relate to it. I was not upset from the question by any means, because it was very well intended.  What I did realize, however, was how little this friend understood about me. I found this as the perfect opportunity to let her in.

Firstly, I don’t feel as if anyone can go back to their “old self” no matter what they’ve been through.  Humans are ever-evolving creatures, and once we experience something, there is no way that our minds can return to the same state that they were in previously.  It’s kind of like learning how to read. At the beginning of our lives, before we knew how to read, we looked at words and they appeared as just a sequence of characters.  Once you learn how to read, it is almost impossible to look at a word and only see it’s characters. The mind automatically reads and associates meaning with every word we see.  When I became very ill I learned how to see the world a different way. I no longer focused on the little things, because I could now understand that every experience joins together to form something bigger; something more meaningful.  Suddenly, superficial problems didn’t seem so threatening anymore. I wasn’t worried about what I was going to wear tomorrow, but instead pondered about how I could make the most out of tomorrow.

Secondly, I accepted the fact that “being sick” will never truly be over for me, and it has taken some time, but I’m finally okay with that.  Having a chronic illness means that life will be unpredictable. One day might consist of laying in bed, and the next may be surprisingly magnificent.  It could perhaps sound hard to handle, and sometimes it is; but it’s not impossible. Something that I find kind of amusing is tricking people into thinking that I’m “normal” because it makes me feel like I’m doing a good job at handling the circumstances.  Most people we casually interact with have no idea what our lives have consisted of, and we have no idea about theirs; which I think is one of the main reasons why we should always do our best at treating others with compassion and respect.

If I could rephrase the initial question, I would want it to ask, “how does this next stage of your life feel?”  Whether we want to think about it or not, life consists of many stages, adjustments, and experiences. It is not about trying to return to a previous stage after it has been interrupted, it is about applying the insight you’ve gained to enjoy the present moment in the most positive way possible.

Nicole Gustafson
Nicole Gustafson received her bachelor's degree in Psychology from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. She recently moved from Connecticut to Menlo Park, California and is attending graduate school at Santa Clara University. Nicole is studying Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Correctional Psychology.