Although I don’t claim to know the “key” to happiness, I do believe it is a choice that is not dependent upon circumstances. True happiness, I think, means learning to be content despite your circumstances. That is not an easy task, of course, but circumstances change drastically from day to day, and if you rely on an outside influence for peace, I don’t believe you will ever find it. This has not been an easy lesson for me – one you would think could not be taught by a serious chronic illness.
A little over a year ago, when the word “gastroparesis” was not even a part of my vocabulary, I struggled mightily with how to find happiness. I truly did think it was something that could be found rather than achieved. I thought perhaps my career, my family and friends, a better place to live, or an improved financial situation might bring me greater happiness; but this was flawed thinking. None of those could ever bring the peace I sought.
Being forced to deal with the wretched effects of this disease has taught me that one can be happy no matter the circumstances. Today, I am far worse off physically and financially than ever before. I am more isolated from others (in a physical sense) as well; yet, I am more content. I have accepted my situation. This is not to say that I would not rid myself of this disease in a second if I could. It does not mean that I do not strive to do everything possible to fight it. It simply means that I have come to realize that I have very little control over it or anything else outside of myself. The only thing I truly control is my attitude and my response to the circumstances that surround me.
As horrendous as my disease is – and it is horrendous – it has allowed me to develop a passion and purpose in life that, prior to my diagnosis, I never knew I had been missing. My eyes have been opened to overwhelming suffering and need, and I have discovered that I can help alleviate this for others. I can fight for them, and I can offer my compassion and support. I can connect with them. I have a purpose, and knowing this gives me peace and a sense of contentment. It demonstrates for me that despite any turn of events, I belong right where I am, and if circumstances change tomorrow, I will still be right where I was meant to be. I can be passionate and purposeful wherever I find myself. There is joy in knowing it can never be any other way.
So, I do my best to focus on the positive aspects of my life now, and I rely heavily on my faith in God and His plan to get me through the day. I now know what is truly important in life; a life-threatening disease clears that up for one very quickly. I choose to no longer worry about the future and all the many things I cannot control; rather, I focus on what is before me at this moment and take the time to be grateful for everything in my life – even the things most people would view as “negatives” – such as my gastroparesis. I have given up trying to control the uncontrollable. I believe there is a plan and a purpose for me, and I choose to focus on discovering and fulfilling my mission, whatever path it might take.