Like so many teachers, I push my body until the breaking point and then collapse. Luckily I work in a European school system, which schedules shorter summer, but more frequent breaks, about every 2 months. Next week is our Vacances de Pommes de Terres, the traditional fall holiday when students used to help families with the potato harvest.

Right on schedule, I am sick again from what feels like the influenza. I wish it was the influenza; the flu has a beginning and an end. At any time my multi-system inflammatory disease flare ups like a roaring beast in my body, clogging my lungs, inflaming brain cells, burning my throat and searing my eyes.

But hey, I don’t want a pity party. I am not alone in the battle to find a cure for disease and remedy for pain. My setback is just a reminder of other friends out there, who are coping with losses, facing surgery and fighting their own battles against cancer, chronic pain, and depression.  No matter what our station in life, we are all part of the aging game.

I spend an inordinate amount of time in the dark, lying flat on my back and looking up struggling to stay positive. Here’s what helps keep me going.

  1. Don’t believe everything your doctor tells you.  YOU know your body best. When you suffer from chronic pain and fatigue, non-specific symptoms that doctors can’t always scientifically identify, you become a problem patient.
  2. Use the tools of technology to reconnect with old friends from the comfort of your couch with an iPads and Laptops.
  3. Call a sister! And I mean anyone in the broad sense of sisterhood. Most women (and some men, too) have that extrasensory sixth sense called empathy. Sometimes the best medicine is a good moan. Do what my sisters and I do.  Time the gripe. After 5 minutes complaining about our arthritis, colitis, encephalitis– we change the subject.
  4. Read! Literature is a great escape. If your eyes hurt like mine often do, listen to books on tape.
  5. Get on your knees and pray for strength to whatever higher power guides you. Then, count your blessings aloud.
  6.  Lay flat on the floor, take deep breaths, and stretch.
  7.  Throw in a load of laundry – the washing machine does all the work, you feel a sense of accomplishment
  8. Focus on someone else’s problem. Reach out to a friend, colleague, family member who is struggling with a call, email, or card.
  9. Ask your significant other to make of dinner or get carry out. Even kids can call for a pizza delivery.
  10. Remember what you do is not who you are! It’s okay to just be.

We measure our worth in dollars. How much we earn, how much we own, how much we produce, how much we accomplish, but the to do list is NEVER done, milestones to reach are endless and things to buy infinite.

In my darkest moments, when I feel so weary from the fight that I can’t go on on, I stop. I reflect on all the people who would miss me if I were no longer around. And think, oh heck, I can hang in there another day!