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Discovering the Blessings in Convalescence and Forced Downtime

We all know how it feels to be stuck in bed or at home with the flu, a bad cold or a virus.  On top of being miserable from discomfort—a pounding head, stuffed sinuses and all sorts of other unpleasant symptoms—we are miserable with impatience. Time drags on as we pine for the day when we’ll be on our feet again, back to our routines and the activities we love.

Most of the time, we can take comfort in the fact that sooner or later the symptoms will pass.  But what about those of us living with a chronic health condition?  Whether it afflicts our digestive system, our heart, our lungs or our liver, it’s always with us. The symptoms and discomfort might cycle from good days to bad days but they never really go away.

How, then, do we reassure ourselves during those times when the symptoms are flaring and keeping us bedridden or simply unable to go about our daily lives?

This is a dilemma I know all too well, and am living through intensely right now.  Recently I had yet another surgery as part of my journey following a surgeon’s mistake 13 years ago.  Amid the lifetime of medical issues the surgeon’s error left me with, I am often plagued with extreme fatigue, pain, depression and confusion.  This is difficult and often uncomfortable, but above all, it can be extremely frustrating.  I have always been a very energetic, fast-paced and busy person. When bad days stretch into bad weeks and even months, there is little I can do except stay at home, stay in bed and wait.

Now, I am bedridden again in the wake of my latest surgery.  It would be easy to slip into darkness and self-pity—and I confess there are times when I’ve let this happen.  We’re only human.  But I have learned that, while not a gift in itself, being bedridden or confined at home can open doors to a host of hidden blessings and opportunities if we let it. Here are some of them:

Limitations encourage introspection. When sidelined from your usual activities, you have a chance to embrace silence and solitude, and to dig deep into your own mind and heart.  It is a powerful time for meditation, prayer, reflection, journaling and generally connecting with your soul.

It’s a time when it’s okay to put your own needs first. Times when we can put our needs above everyone else’s without guilt or shame are rare.  But when we’re feeling unwell, self-care is paramount.  It’s a time to listen to our bodies and hearts and to be open with those around us about what we need so we can move toward healing, and to tell ourselves that in this case, doing so is okay.

You become more spiritual.  When so much is beyond your control and in many respects all you can do is wait, there’s little to do aside from surrender: to your caregivers, and to the higher power that guides you. This is a time ripe for coming to terms with your human condition and your mortality.  During my own times of being bedridden or confined, I have noticed a very tender window opening up inside of me. Surrendering is extremely powerful. It gives you a glimpse of the immense universe and the perfection of creation. 

It’s a chance to get your affairs in order—mentally and physically.  During times of confinement, I’ve put together a living will mapping out my wishes in case I’m unable to make decisions.  This has meant reflecting on what I want, talking about it with my family and consulting an attorney.  There’s a physical process as well that downtime lends itself to: organizing drawers, closets, attics; deciding what material things you really want to keep and what you can let go of.  It’s very cathartic.

You notice miracles.  Miracles aren’t just the huge, earth shattering events we hear about in religious settings such as healings at Lourdes or manna from heaven.  On the contrary: miracles happen all around us, every day, in the smallest ways: a flower blossom opening, a baby cooing, a stranger catching our eye from a distance and warming our heart with a smile.  When stuck in bed or at home, time slows down and our perspective zooms in on our immediate surroundings.  We experience the smallest moments and the miracles they hold.

Gratitude is amplified. When we are tuned into miracles and the tiniest of moments touch our hearts, we are filled with intense gratitude for everything, small and large: healthy food to eat, a cozy bed to rest in, people we love, the amazing complexity of the human body.  Nothing can turn challenges and frustration into a blessing like gratitude can.

So for now, as I wait for the healing process to run its course, I am meditating, reflecting, paying attention to miracles and above all, counting my blessings.