The meaning of illness

We’re always trying to find meaning in what happens to us, and illness is no exception. Do you get colds all the time? Can’t sleep? You must be doing something wrong. But it’s only useful to think that way if you figure out what it is that’s getting in the way of good health, and do something about it. I know it’s easy to say. We all know we should eat less/exercise more/learn to manage stress better, but we muddle along until something trips us up. That’s fine; it’s normal and it’s human. In the end, our health is our own responsibility.

What we can’t do is find meaning in other people’s ailments. Even if your friend asks you (or your patient pays you) to help make sense of something, all you can do is help them find their way to some understanding, and so to the best way to manage the situation. You can’t tell them what they’re doing wrong, and you certainly can’t go digging in the past for reasons why they are in trouble now. At best, it’s not compassionate, and at worst it can be downright cruel. We all need our friends when we are ill, and we all know which friends do us the most good. The kind of friend who brings cheerful company, and can be with you in your distress, or the kind who gives advice? In the end, the meaning of illness is whatever we make of it, and that tells us more about our take on life in general than it does about the illness. And meanwhile, make the most of your good friends.

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