In 2004, I was struck by a life-threatening attack of acute encephalitis that resulted in paraplegia and subsequent lower limb paralysis. During the five years of rehabilitation to regain my physical independence, not only did I re-learn how to move and utilize my body, but I also experienced a greater personal insight.
I was given the opportunity to see my life as a gift and I appreciated that it was a privilege to have access to my new found inner-resources. My illness and subsequent recovery allowed for a new understanding of myself, the present, difficulties, compassion, and perspective.
The first of the Five Gifts of Illness was that of Self-Discovery. My initial condition was very dire and there were a lot of uncertainties surrounding my prognosis and survival. I, however, was certain. I was certain that I wanted to live. I was certain that I was not yet ready to give up on the life I had. I knew that I was prepared to endure physical hardship, just for the opportunity to continue to experience life and to be with those that I loved. Previously, I had taken for granted that I was surrounded by love, that I had all my physical abilities, and that I had the freedom to experience and take part in life. But I soon recognized that all the things that I had been taking for granted were also the very things that motivated me to endure when faced with adversity.
I was forced to examine my own life, to decide what was important to me and what I could bring to the world. I chose to look at my illness and circumstance as a gift. I had been given the chance to uncover from within, those aspects of my life that were the most important to me. During my rehabilitation, it became clear to me that my actions had a direct impact on the quality of my life. It showed me that I was willing and able to overcome difficulty to get what I truly wanted. My illness and recovery reinforced my belief in the physical resilience of the human body and in the powers of my own inner strength.
The gift of Self-Discovery was the realization that anything is possible when striving for those aspects of life that embody the true essence of who you are.
Illness need not equate to suffering. When we experience and embrace it as an opportunity to discover and open a path to our innermost self, illness can truly be one of the greatest gifts in life that we receive. Self-Discovery is the first gift I received. My subsequent articles will describe the other four Gifts of Illness, each of which has led to profound and empowering changes in my life.