Collateral Beauty

Whenever there is warfare, there is collateral damage. Innocent civilians die. Historic landmarks are obliterated. Food scarcity, people movements and disrupted social orders can all be expected.

I’ve now been sick for a year, and although there has definitely been some collateral damage – loss of income, loss of mobility, loss of opportunities – I’ve realized there’s also been some collateral beauty because of what’s happened.

So here’s some of the good things that I’ve learned in the last year:

Community is absolutely critical to my survival. In the past year I have had to depend on people in my community to provide me with rides to appointments, take my kids to important events, bring us meals, respond to desperate phone calls to come wash my dishes and clean my house, contribute to the cost of a racing wheelchair, and run me in my chair over long distances!


I have had people who advocated for me, believed in me, stood up to me, and stood with me.

For many people, simply learning to accept community can be challenging, but I’ve come to realize that my very survival is dependent on community – and it’s been an enormous gift.

When you are healthy, you can pretend that you don’t need community. You can pretend that you’ve ‘got this’. But community is sort of like health insurance – it’s much harder to get after you get sick!

There is freedom and value to learning to hold lightly. The plans, responsibilities and commitments that I used to feel burdened by and obligated to no longer get to be my top priority. One of the key areas of therapy I have done in the past year is to shift from an “activities first, rest second” mentality to a “rest first, activity second” mentality.

And because activities have had to take a back seat to rest, I have also had to learn to hold lightly to how things get done. Because if someone wants to come and load my dishwasher, I don’t get to micromanage the way it gets done. I get to lay on the couch and thank them for their help!

This new way of living demands that I put margins around every activity I do, protecting me from the ‘tyranny of the busy’ and building time into my life to pause and breathe. I’m well aware that this is a privilege – and I’m grateful for it!

My body has important things to tell me, if only I would take the time to listen. Having spent my entire life trying to ignore the pain and stress messages that my body was sending me, I have been amazed at all that my body wants to tell me now that I’m taking the time to listen.

I’ve had the chance to learn how to tune in to my body before I’m incapacitated to help me more and more accurately judge if I have the energy to do an activity or not, or if a certain situation or decision or set of choices is going to cause me trouble down the road.

The result has been that I’ve been much more attuned to my body, and much healthier in many ways – emotionally and physically – because of it.

I’m not the type of person to want to wish bad things on anyone – I’ve gone through enough over the years, and wouldn’t wish any of it on my worst enemy, much less a friend.

But perhaps you can learn something from my experiences, without having to go through the hard parts yourself.

Perhaps you might lean in a bit deeper to the community you have – or look for ways to begin to connect with community where you are.

Perhaps you might add in even five minutes of margins between each of the activities in your schedule, and use those five minutes not to surf the web or check social media, but to simply sit and breathe.

Or perhaps you might take five minutes at the end of each day to check in with your body, and actually listen to the messages it’s giving you, until you learn to discern the difference between a dehydration headache and a kink in your neck or the difference between muscles sore from working out and muscles sore to the point of damage.

And perhaps with each new step you take you will uncover a little bit of collateral beauty for yourself!

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