finding gratitude in pain, struggle & chronic illness

by Marissa Håkansson

For the most part of my twenties, I experienced an underlying sense of dissatisfaction within myself and my life. I felt like I was struggling against life; with everything that I wanted just out of my reach.

This struggle became expressed in all parts of my life: physically (through chronic illness), emotionally and mentally (through chronic stress, anxiety, constant discontentment and inability to feel at peace with past hurts), financially (grappling with money issues), in my career (feeling unable to find my calling or life’s work) and in my relationships (lacking depth and meaning in how I connected with others).

The more I struggled and tried to push my way out of what I was experiencing, the more my inner pain deepened. Likewise, the more I ignored or downplayed what I was experiencing (pretending that everything was okay), the more discontent I felt.

Looking at my life, I can see that I was always working so hard to try and ‘get to’ that place where life wouldn’t be such a struggle. I was looking for a sense of ease, flow and appreciation to come to me from somewhere ‘out there’ in my future. For example, I thought that changes to my job or career, my health, a new relationship, more money and so forth, would bring me happiness in and of themselves.

It was only after some time of dealing with my biggest ‘struggle’, managing a chronic illness, that I started to see things differently. You see, my health had declined to the point where I was unable to continue working and even the simplest of daily tasks of looking after myself were challenging.

I was experiencing a level of discomfort and illness in my body that while intensely difficult, started to give me an entirely new perspective on life. I began to have gratitude for the simplest things. For my breath. For my body. For my ability to feel well enough to get out of bed and enjoy the sunshine. To have the energy to connect with a friend, or read a book.

It was through feeling like I’d lost everything – even my body – that I started to have real gratitude for life itself. I started to have genuine appreciation for things that previously I’d taken for granted. I started to see beauty and wonder everywhere within life and others. And, I finally felt the gift in my pain and struggle; because it had brought me to truly appreciate living.

And it didn’t take a change in any part of my outer world to experience it.

It’s not that I’ve healed all parts of my life since (that’s unfolding over time), nor have I only experienced a constant flood of gratitude since then (that would be unrealistic). However, something deeper within me has shifted. I have an underlying knowing within myself that I am okay.

There have been challenges, frustrations and times where I doubt myself and doubt life. There’s been times when I’ve wanted to give it all up, and admit defeat. But despite this, within myself, I know I won’t feel that way for long. I know that I will return to that inner sense of gratitude and contentment again.

Through my journey, I finally realised (not only on an intellectual level, but in a way where I felt that realisation within my body and whole self), that contentment within who we are really does comes from within.

And without the pain and struggle I’ve experienced, it’s likely I wouldn’t have the depth of gratitude for life that I now have.

If you’d like to talk more about feeling gratitude and contentment within yourself and your life, I invite you to reach out and connect or schedule a complimentary consultation. I’d be happy to support you.

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Selected photography by Heidi Pultar