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So I was thinking, which for me, is always a dangerous prospect especially because my thoughts often start out in the form of a weird blob of mished-mashed random words until slowly and quite painfully maybe, just maybe…if I am lucky, a meaningful thought is born.

What struck me recently as I was awoken in the middle of the night by one of my dogs, who was whimpering and crying to go out so that she could eat enough grass to make herself throw up, I suspect because in typical dog fashion, she ate something disgusting earlier in the day, is that my dogs fill a void for me.

The thing about me is that I have always been a care-taking, do-gooder. And in my youth, back when I was a twenty something, idealistic, true believer and thought there was good in everyone, I got my social work degree. I’ve always wanted to do things to make other people’s lives better. I used to think I was altruistic. Maybe I was but what I have learned later in life, is that we really do good for others to make ourselves feel better. But no matter the reason, doing a good thing for someone else is still a worthy thing.

Eventually, my career took me down an administrative path. I went, as my husband likes to joke…”to the dark side”. I became the bureaucrat I once loathed, dictating patient care based on cost. But I never once lost the social working do-gooder inside me because I can say with great pride that even though I had to make tough decisions, I always made quality patient care a top priority. I loved my career. I was good at it.

But eventually my disease got the better of me and the demands and hours required to do really good work as a hospice healthcare administrator took their toll. As the Sarcoidosis progressed and my breathing worsened, my thinking slowed and my mental and physical strength waned. I could no longer give both my work life and my home life the same attention. When I focused on one, the other was entirely neglected. Sarcoidosis had taken away my illusion of balance and control. Something had to give because once that facade breaks and reality sets in, you realize you aren’t the super person you had fooled yourself into thinking you were anyway. What gave in my case, was my career. I love my husband too much have remained so vacant in our marriage. So at the tender age of 43, I made the very difficult decision to retire. My wonderful husband did not pressure me. In fact, he never even said a word about my vacancy. I just knew and I didn’t like it. He is an amazing man and he deserved better from me. So I know I made the right choice because, even though it was a loss to let go of a career that I loved, I am in fact, happier now that I have been in a long time. I no longer have to guess at where to put my energy or time, always disappointing someone or leaving something half completed.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss my career…that feeling of knowing that hopefully the decisions I was making were bettering other people’s lives in some small way.

Having this disease, has, I admit somewhat sheepishly, made me feel like a more self involved person in some regard, forcing me to focus on myself in ways I never did before. I have a need to be vigilant of my health. Because if I don’t, like a boat that springs a leak, I start to sink and I can’t bail the water out fast enough to make a difference. And it always amazes me how quickly this can happen when I let my vigilance slip. I don’t particularly like the feeling of self involvement. I am still getting used to taking care of myself instead of everyone else.

So as I stood there, outside at 1 am in the drizzle while my poor, poor dog’s tummy was in a tangle and she vomited and looked at me with very sad eyes, I thought about how grateful I was for my dogs…they fill a void for me. They are something to take care of. Creatures in need. I am able to provide them with a very nice life and this gives me pleasure. It obviously is not quite the same as caring for a dying patient or helping an elderly person who just had hip surgery get home and be safe but it fills a need…the drive that I have to be of service.

We only recently are a two dog family. We got a puppy back in April. I think getting the puppy, my husband’s idea, has been a huge benefit to me in terms of filling that void. I mean, puppies are so cute but man are they stupid. They are all about needing us to care for them!

So here’s the take away in all of my weird random thoughts that eventually formed an idea…when you are chronically ill, you still need to fill the voids that get left behind from the things that you lose. See, life with chronic illness is a life of never ending grief. One day you can do something you take for granted. The next day you cannot. But just because you can no longer do something doesn’t mean you should give up.

Having a chronic illness actually gives me the opportunity to find new ways to grow that I never would have had if I had not gotten sick. Take this blog for one thing. It fills a void for me. A need. I write hoping that maybe something I say will help someone else somewhere out there in the vast and ever growing blog world of internet noise.

What I am finding is that it is so important to take a deeply personal inventory, to examine in honestly and truth how my life has changed from this disease. Taking in the sadness that comes from the losses is one step in the inventory. The other is figuring out how to fill the voids chronic disease leaves me with. And I always enjoy a good challenge.

I must grieve but I also must live…continue to truly and passionately live my life to the very best of my physical, mental and spiritual well being. At every opportunity I must find a way to fill the voids and close the gap between what was and what now is.

I must continue to look for the gifts in each day and rise to fight the challenges before me. I must fill the voids left behind by disease so that I can still have a life worth living and worthy of others.

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