In case you don’t know, carpe diem is a oft used phrase that is latin for “seize the day.” It was the OG “yolo.” It is used to inspire people to make the most of every single day because you never know what day could be your last. So, buy that dress, eat that cake, take that trip…you get the point.
What about those of us with chronic illnesses? How are we supposed to seize the day when we’re in a bad flare that won’t allow us to get out of bed? How do you make the most of each and every day when you are suffering from debilitating pain? Even just one night out can land me in bed recovering for the next three days, makes it kinda difficult to live a spontaneous and adventurous life.
Before POTS debilitated me, I clung to the phrase “carpe diem.” It was a personal mantra I would utter whenever a decision would arise that scared me. It was what pushed me to go to an acting conservatory 3,000 miles from home at the age of 18, to go back to school again at 22, to go for a job that I wanted but was afraid I wasn’t good enough for, to leave an unhealthy marriage, and to find love again. I tried to add adventure and excitement to my life every chance that I got.
But, then I got sick. My ability to take on spontaneous adventures diminished rapidly. No more week long road trips, with camping out in random locations. Any trip has to be meticulously planned, including back up plans for if I flare up or something goes wrong. I have to make sure that I have enough medicines, all of my accessibility devices, salty snacks, clothes for all weather, etc. It’s cumbersome and frustrating. Even an unplanned night out for dinner can be too much for me.
Motivational images circulating social media telling people to stop making excuses and seize the day no longer serve as inspiration for me anymore. They serve as a reminder of what I once was able to do that I cannot do anymore. According to the vast majority of these images, I was no longer capable of living a full and happy life because I can barely leave the house, let alone embrace life through various social activities that apparently contain the secret meaning of the universe.
Then, someone posted “you can’t live a full life unless you are mentally and physically healthy” on Twitter and a switch was flipped in my brain. How dare someone assume that I, or anyone, can’t have a full life even with physical and/or mental illness? I began to examine the way I had been thinking about carpe diem and what it meant to make the most of each day, and realized how much internalized ableism shaped my idea of these things.
Just because I can’t go climb Mt. Everest or hop on a last minute flight to a mystery location, doesn’t mean that I don’t have a full life.
My life is full for multiple reasons, and none of them have to do with what activities I’m able to do. Watching my daughter grow into an incredible and spirited person is part of what makes my life full. Having a partner who loves and supports me, plus makes me laugh harder than anyone else in the world, is part of what makes my life full. My wonderful friends, both online and in person, who help me get through the hard times, and laugh with me during the good times, are part of what makes my life full.
Perhaps, in spite of what motivational Pinterest boards tell us, there is no one way to have a full life. If staying home on a Friday night, eating pizza and binge watching Netflix, is what makes you happy, then that’s you seizing the day and making the most of it. If I have to spend the day in bed resting in order to go out tomorrow, then I’m seizing the day. In fact, on days when I am confined to the bed, I can still live a full life by watching things I enjoy, writing, reading, chatting with friends, hanging out with my partner, or listening to my daughter’s stories.
Don’t let anyone tell you how to seize the day, or what your life should look like. Don’t let anyone belittle the things that make you happy by saying they aren’t good enough. Or that your idea of happy isn’t “full” enough. You don’t have to be healthy to enjoy life. You are the only one who gets to decide what a full life means to you.
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