The Benefit of the Illness
A Life-Lessons Story
by Chana Klein
Why is it that some people just do not get better?
Why (at the time of this writing) do I still use crutches to walk?
There are people who go from one healer to another searching for an answer.
They say they want to get better.
How many of us are searching in that way?
How many of us are seeking the truth for ourselves, or for someone else? The truth of how to live, or of what to do, or what to think?
How many of us actually find what we are in search of? But then, once we find what it, what do we do with it?
Do we change according to the truth we have found?
Some client stories (not the real names)
I ask Marie, a 4th stage cancer patient: What will you miss about having cancer when we get you better?
She readily answers.
“I will miss being free of the responsibility of taking care of my daughter-in-law’s house and children. The fact that I am sick excuses me from going over there.”
It amazed her further that the kids are still well and thriving . . . and the house is fine. . . even though she had not been there during the past two years of her illness.
Being excused from what we think we have to do is a benefit of an illness.
Harold has never had a friend.
We all need a friend, someone to speak with and to share with.
You would think that is a terrible thing. And it is.
But with it is also the benefit.
I asked, “When you get a friend, what will you miss about not having a friend?”
Harold, who is on the spectrum, talks in bullet points. From the tip of his tongue, he shot out a list of at least 20 things that he will miss about not having a friend when he finally does get a friend.
Among the things he will miss were the complete control he feels he has when he is alone. He will also miss the freedom he has to avoid conflict because, to him, conflict is so unpleasant.
He said also that he will miss the feeling of not having any obligations.
Harold shared so much more about what he will miss about not having a friend.
While Harold wanted a friend so very much, the benefit of not having a friend had been winning. That is, until he made an inner decision, based on his new awareness, about what he really wants.
A person who stays in a situation usually chooses to do so from the bottom of his soul.
Yet, he may keep seeking to find an answer.
We meet a “seeker” in the Torah portion that is named after him. Yitro, the father-in-law of Moses, hears about God speaking from the mountain to the Israelites. He hears the same news that everyone hears about the Revelation at Sinai.
Yitro travels with Moses’ wife and children to join the Jewish people and to be a part of this phenomenal event.
Yitro is a seeker. He seeks and searches for truth. According to the commentaries, Yitro has tried every religion and form of worship.
He is in his glory now having found the truth that he has been seeking his entire life.
That truth that Yitro found was in Torah from Sinai.
He declares, “Now I know that God is greater than all other gods.” (Exodus/Shemot 18:11)
But what does Yitro, who is a seer and seeker, do with the truth that he has found?
Does he now live according to that truth?
Does he finally stop searching other religions and start learning the depth of the Torah?
The Book of Numbers reveals what Yitro did with the truth he found.
Moses asks Yitro to come with the Israelites to where God is sending them.
“Go with us and we shall treat you well for God has spoken of good for Israel.” (Numbers/Bamidbar 10:29)
But Yitro, even though he found his truth with the Israelites, responds that he will not go with them.
Rather he will “go only to his land and his family.” (Numbers 10:30)
In other words, Yitro declares that he will go back to his old life, ignoring his great find.
Moses continues to try to convince him to follow what he has found. (Numbers 10:31)
But to no avail.
For Yitro, after having sought every religion for most of his life and then finding the truth in the Torah from Sinai, must have been an awesome moment in time to find what he had been searching for.
Searching for answers and then actually finding them would be amazing for any of us.
But are we any different from Yitro?
What do we do with those answers when we find them? Do we internalize the truth that we find and change our ways?
Do we go back to our old ways, as Yitro does?
Do we ignore what we have found and keep searching?
There are those who seek and search but do not do anything with the answers they find.
They go back to seeking.
Why would anyone do that?
Why would a person hold onto his illness or onto anything negative in his life?
I have found that, for many, there is a benefit to staying where we are and just continuing the search for an answer.
There is a benefit in the discomfort of our condition.
There is a benefit in the illness.
Robert called me from a California hospital to heal his heart condition. He was only 38 years old.
I asked him, “What will you miss about this heart problem when we get you better?”
I ask many of my clients how what they are suffering from is helping them in some way.
It amazes me that the answer is often so readily available to them.
Robert’s heart condition began when he realized that his parents, who live in Argentina, are aging. He remembered worrying that they may need financial help soon and that he would have to put out the money to support them.
Robert is a planner. He plans for every penny.
The benefit to Robert of being in the hospital with a heart problem is that no one would expect any kind of financial help from him while he is in this condition.
While Robert loves his parents, deep down, his illness was of great benefit to him in that he believed it would save him from financial loss.
Just the same, he knew this was not how he wanted to be.
We found alternative ways to deal with his worry about finances and with his need to plan ahead for every penny. In our work, he realized how impossible it is to plan for everything that will happen.
His heart condition became a thing of the past shortly after that.
Susan was diagnosed schizophrenic. When I began working with her, she was plagued with daily hallucinations. Susan is a very high soul, as I have found all schizophrenics to be, and wanted very much to think of herself as “sweet and good.”
There is logic to the hallucinations she was experiencing.
When Susan had a thought that she felt did not make her “sweet and good,” she simply had the figure appear in the hallucination saying it as if it did not belong to Susan. Ex: “Mary Smith said my mother is bad.”
While Susan loved her mother, part of her was angry with her, a lot because of the treatments she was put through as a teen to deal with her schizophrenia.
But Susan did not want to own the fact that she could have anger. So she gave that anger to the figure she was hallucinating, Mary Smith. Then the thought was not Susan’s. Susan now could blame the anger on someone else and remain the person she wants to think she is.
There was great benefit to Susan in her private hallucinatory world that was never boring.
Owning her feelings has greatly relieved her occurrence of hallucinations.
Susan received so much relief from looking at the reality and her patterns of thought that she married and gave birth to children whom she is raising with help from her family.
To each illness, there is a benefit.
Each illness serves a specific purpose for those of us who suffer from it.
If the illness persists, then we likely need that illness for something more important than getting better.
It might be an excuse for a failure.
It could be a subconscious way to get others to care for us.
It might be for the special attention,
or even to get reprieve from being criticized, which is an outcome of being ill.
In order to get better, we need to be aware of what that benefit is.
As a mind-body practitioner who heals so many maladies of others and of my own, I had to examine why I still use crutches to walk?
I had to do my own searching.
By 1997 I was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD.) I was in horrific pain, very embarrassed that I needed crutches after having been a skilled athlete.
The first year or two of being stricken with RSD, I was pretty much homebound.
When I began coming back into the world and even presented at conferences, people were nice to me.
I realized that people want to help a person who is disabled.
It was so healing, not just of RSD, but of my whole life to have people want to help me, to have people being kind to me.
How healing it is to have so may people run to hold the door for me, even though I know I can push it open and fly right through by myself.
Just the fact that they would want to is healing to me.
How healing it is to go on stage and rather than see daggers of jealousy thrown at me from the audience’s faces, seeing people on the edge of their seats ready to help me, ready to support, totally rooting for my success.
On crutches, I am no longer a threat to anyone, for no one wants to be me. No one wants to be a person who uses crutches to walk, a person who needs to accommodate how she does everything in order to do what everyone else does with ease.
The benefit of the illness I am not ready to give up.
I am not ready to face the world without the shield of using crutches.
They are my Shield of David, protecting me from the worst side of people and bringing out their best, for people like to help one who they think needs it.
Behind these crutches I can have encyclopedic knowledge of nutrition, healing, coaching, Torah, and about a thousand other subjects. I can be an intuitive without anyone being jealous. I can be me without the suppressive force of those who want to attack me, because behind those crutches no one wants to.
And so for Yitro there was a benefit, I am sure, in continuing to be a seeker without living up to what he has found. Perhaps the great responsibility of a Torah life, a life of commitment, or even of leadership, was too much to imagine had he internalized and committed to what he had found.
There are many benefits we each have in not internalizing and changing according to the truth we have found.
But in order to get better, in order to heal, in order to change, we need to understand the benefit we are getting from being where we are.
We need to be aware of that before we can take on the benefit of being who we want to be.
Knowing the benefit of our illness unlocks the key to the jail that we put ourselves in.
Then we can be free to decide, to heal, and to be the person we choose to be.
Post Script 2016 – Years after writing this story, I am free of my need for crutches mentally, and physically.
Details of how I did that are for another story.
Copyright © Chana Klein 2015