A few weeks ago, I found myself watching a 90s Lifetime movie. Don’t judge me! I was in a Beverly Hills 90210 mood and Brian Austin Green was in it. Anyway, one of the main characters—a middle-aged woman—regretted the fact that she got pregnant at a young age. Her husband kept reminding her that they had a great life with two wonderful kids. But she responded, “Yes, but it could have been better.” That statement really hit me! In many ways, that’s how I feel about my illness. I had no choice in the matter. I do not see illness—mental or physical, invisible or visible—as a character flaw. Despite the fact that I feel no guilt, I struggle with tremendous regret. I am grateful for the amazing people I have met that I would not know without my illnesses. I know there are blessings that come with illness such as wisdom, self-awareness, and a profound connection with people who are suffering—and yet there is regret.
When I have had regrets, they have been temporary and minor (compared to the events that happened after I got Myasthenia Gravis when I was 24). For example, when I was a senior in high school, I wrote an apology letter to a classmate from elementary school. He was bullied a lot when we were in the sixth grade. I didn’t do the bullying but I didn’t defend him either. There is no excuse for cowardice.
When Life Changes In An Instant
When we’ve wronged someone, we can apologize. And if we are fortunate (as I was), the other person accepts the apology. Sometimes, we can move on from mistakes. But with chronic illness, there is no “moving on.” I remember that pivotal pre-diagnosis moment when I going up this long flight of stairs at work. All of the sudden, I could not feel anything below my waist. I started falling. And kept falling. Finally, I mustered up enough strength in my arms to lay there after falling halfway down the stairs. A million thoughts raced through my mind like, “Where are my quadriceps? I know I brought them with me when I left the house this morning…I obviously have a neurological disorder because my mind is telling my body, ‘get up’ but my body can’t. And I can’t speak.” Weeks later, I was diagnosed with Myasthenia and hospitalized in critical condition. So began a never-ending journey with Myasthenia (on top of my pre-existing conditions: bipolar disorder and polycystic ovarian syndrome).
When Closure Is Elusive
With chronic illness, there is no end. It happens everyday. My body is attacked every single day. Acceptance is one thing chronically ill people learn but we are not afforded the luxury of closure. I have learned to say “no” and set boundaries but I cannot stop the attacks. For the most part, I have no control over fatigue and pain. My illnesses often get in the way of my goals. I started to experience some momentum last year (due to physical therapy and Reliv) after my life took a five-year detour because of illness. People with illnesses sometimes worry about our life expectancy—this includes people whose illnesses have come close to killing us and people whose diseases typically come with short life spans. The combination of obstacles and a sense that time is running out as we pursue our goals creates tension. Do we give up on our goals because of our health? On the other hand, do dreams keep us alive? What does it mean to live victoriously with illness?
Jessica, 28 years-old, with Muscular Dystrophy,
“I regret the things I’ll miss out on because of MD — like getting to have children (took me forever to make peace with that one) — but I know it isn’t my fault. It’s a genetic fluke I have no control over.”
Gratitude and Regret Are Not Mutually Exclusive
If you’re a person who hears a loved talk about regret, he/she is not saying he/she doesn’t value your compassion. What we’re saying is: While we are thankful, we also mourn the dreams we lost.
Has your illness affected your dreams?
–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno