Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Faith in sickness and pain

When we talk about faith, it doesn't have to be about the divine. Regardless of what faith your are, or if you have no religious faith at all, a chronic illness can really test your beliefs. I'm on the fence as to whether there is a God, or gods, or whatever. But that doesn't mean that I have a lack of faith. Faith is still fundamental to human existence. I see faith as the absolute confidence that something is true, even if it hasn't come to be yet. Faith to me doesn't even have to be spiritual. It can be faith that the electricity will work (the bill is paid). All types of faiths get challenged in sickness and pain, and there are several ways to respond. I choose to respond in the way that best benefits the situation.

I have faith in humanity, and faith that people are basically good. Do I know that stranger is good? No... But I believe they are until they give me proof otherwise. If that stranger proves to be shifty, I have all sorts of countermeasures I can use to protect myself. However, when it comes to my faith in my friends, I get evidence that could be seen as "otherwise." Getting sick isolates me from other people and makes it difficult for people to want to visit me. We have a strange aversion to illness and injury as a species. I've seen it happen to myself, to friends of mine, and in other cultures. Sickness and injury, at a primal, subconscious level, are a sign of weakness and something to be avoided. Going really, really primal, it means that you're likely to be picked off by the wolves. Other people will stay away because of that, and not realize they're doing it for that reason. That can really test my faith that people are basically good. We would all like to think that if we got sick or ill, people would rally around us, tend to us, makes us better and bring us back into the fold. But generally, that's not how it happens. I know there is the urge in me, if I can get better/when I do get better, to just leave this all behind and never talk about it again. Go back to "normal" and leave this in the past. I doubt I'll do that (I know too much to forsake those I'd leave behind), but the urge is there. So in this case, my faith is convenient and sometimes contrary to evidence. I will lose faith in that stranger the moment they make a untoward movement. I will keep faith in my friends even with evidence to the contrary, because I prefer keeping my friends.

My faith can be faith that my body will be in similar condition tomorrow as it is today. It can be faith that the floor will be there when I put my foot down. It can be faith that what I'm feeling is real. All of this gets thrown on its head in sickness and injury. Where I think the floor is may not actually be where the floor is. What I'm feeling, whether physically or emotionally, may be a complete fabrication of my nervous system and have nothing to do with reality. And when I wake up in the morning, it may be in a condition that takes me completely by surprise. It's very difficult to wake up and immediately be able to tend to some dire bodily need. And by dire, I mean things like vomiting, severe pain, and what I affectionately call the "splodie butt." But I have faith that my body will work anyway, because it's useless to stay up worrying---which will make me sick---over the possibility that I might be sick. I have no faith in my feelings. I always doubt them and test them against reality. I have neuropathy and PTSD. I know my feelings and sensations are often wrong. I have faith that the floor will be there. I'm not always right, but I'm good at managing the fallout when I'm wrong, so I don't mind keeping that faith.

I have faith that time will eventually change things for the better. Does that mean I'll survive long enough to see that goodness? No... But I believe it could be right around the corner. That's good enough. However, when things start changing from bad to worse, this really comes under fire. At some point, everyone starts to wonder, "Just how long can this go on? What did I do to deserve this?" Limits are strained, broken, or downright obliterated. That can easily be seen as evidence that things are not going to get better soon enough. But I've got to hold on to that faith anyway because the alternative is worthless. I want to be someone who fights until I'm absolutely overwhelmed. I've been at that point where I was so sick I didn't know what was going on, and a team of doctors was fighting to keep me alive. I have sworn to myself that no one is going to be able to say I gave up easy. If my death is anything, I want it to be respectable. And I have faith that I can keep that promise to myself. Is that true? Who knows!? And it doesn't matter. The faith is what's important.

Do I have faith in a benevolent spirit that has some concept of sin and holiness? I don't know that that's true. I do, however, have faith in mystery. Some things work out and we have no idea why. Some things don't work or work only sometimes and we don't know why. There are some things that only work when we're not looking at them and we don't know why. I have faith that there are bigger and stranger things out there than my little mind can comprehend. Could that include a benevolent spirit that has some concept of sin and holiness that is watching over me? Sure! But does it matter? If it matters to you that you go to Church/Synagogue/Mosque, then it matters to you and that's good enough. Me, some days the ritual of prayers helps. Other days, I think if there is such a Higher Power, we're going to go a few rounds before this is all over (so it's more comforting at such times to think such a being is impossible). Some days I think this is all there is. Some days, it's downright spooky. Here, my faith is complicated, complex, and I'm not even sure I understand it myself!

So faith can take many forms, it can wax and wane, and it can be clear as mud sometimes. It's still a human activity that we all engage in. It can be mundane or divine, metaphysical or physical, and everything in between. Injury and illness, pain and sickness, will test faith in a number of ways. We struggle to hold on. Sometimes, we find we have to let go. But I try to do so in ways that enhance the situation rather than make it worse. Sure, that means biting the bullet or dealing with upsets, but that's life, right? We pick ourselves up, have faith in a number of ways, and keep going. How's your faith today?


  1. I have faith in many things. But you are so right. Illness can test one's faith regardless of which faith. Probably one of my strongests faiths is that eventually there will be a light at the end of the dark tunnel. And if I just keep going, traveling, making my through...I will find that light. Beautifully written post.

  2. *blush* Thanks... it's been something that I've been trying to figure out how to say for a long time. I finally came to peace with it when I was able to realize there is so much more to faith than just spiritual faith, ya know? Faith in reality itself is something we take for granted... It took them over 100 years to figure out that Van Gogh wasn't hallucinating... he was so light sensitive that he could see the night sky in a way other human beings couldn't!! Those swirls of stars are actually there! It wasn't until our imaging of the night sky got good enough that we realized, oh, holy cow...

    I have faith that if there isn't a light at the end of the tunnel, I may be able to make a light somewhere else in my life instead. I don't have to be 100% healthy to be happy, just healthy *enough*! lol