A few recent conversations with people I love and admire (and who also happen to be religious) got me thinking about faith and living with chronic illness. I should begin by mentioning that I am not religious myself. At all. I was raised Catholic, and I do still hold on to certain elements of my religious upbringing. Such as trying to treat people with kindness, treating those as you'd like to be treated yourself, and valuing and nurturing love. These are all aspects of my character I can attribute to both my wonderful parents and the bleeding into my life of Catholicism. If Jesus will pardon the pun.
But recently I've pondered how different my handling of my disease may have been had I continued down the path of that of a practicing Catholic. Because I don't feel a belief in any 'higher power' or am drawn to any form of organised religion, I wonder what that must feel like in comparison to my current lifestyle of taking each day as it comes. I suppose the element of my religious past I’ve held onto most would be feeling guilty for absolutely everything. This includes eating a delicious and/or expensive meal – I’ll feel guilty about the indulgence and the pain it’ll undoubtedly cause my purse and intestines. That’s fine I guess, a little guilt never hurt anyone and it certainly puts a halt on me doing anything that might actually warrant 25 Hail Mary’s and a Holy Communion afterwards.
I don’t want any of this to sound patronising or disrespectful in any way. I would never question why people I love/abject strangers feel a need or calling towards religion. It’s a choice; just not one I’d choose. In much the same way you wouldn’t question my undying love of Jon Hamm. DO NOT QUESTION MY UNDYING LOVE OF JON HAMM.
I blindly put my ‘faith’ in doctors. I have to. I don’t believe in a specific Higher Power, I don’t have an alternative. That’s my choice, of course. But for me it’s all I have. I’m often secretly envious of those with a strong faith in God/Aloe Vera/whatever. Not because I feel at a loss without something to believe in, but because I wonder how different life must be for those patients who do. Does having a deity of some sort to reach out to make pain and suffering easier to tolerate? I imagine it is a comfort; at least that’s what I’m led to believe from those around me. Any form of comfort with a chronic illness is a blessing. I take my comfort from my loved ones. I ‘believe’ in them, and in their ability to soothe my anxious mind. They are tangible, and real, and around. They forgive my occasional bad behaviour and understand it comes from pain and anxiety, they don’t expect a penance for it, and I return the understanding just as wholly.
With a chronic illness, and especially in talking so openly and publicly about it as I do, patients are often subjected to a seemingly endless ream of ‘miracle’ cures. I have a tendency to pooh-pooh these ‘cures’ in much the same way I do religion. Maybe without even realising how that may appear to those with a strong faith. I’m well aware that rubbing my every orifice with Aloe Vera may not necessarily go and in hand with attending mass. (Although, I’m still stoically of the belief that neither would ‘cure’ me). There is a difference e between a spam email trying to sell me dodgy diet pills and a caring friend/family member offering me comfort by sharing a belief they hold dear. I need to see that more often perhaps, instead of being so overtly dismissive.
I don’t feel I’m missing out on anything because I don’t believe in God, I just don’t ‘get it’. But then I don’t have to, just like you are totally allowed to believe in whatever the Hell you want too. If Jesus will pardon the pun. Again...