I hate jigsaw puzzles. I have neither the attention span nor the inclination to make sense of their colorful chaos. But my husband loves them and last weekend was his birthday. So we sat down together to complete a puzzle.
Thirty seconds after dumping the box’s contents onto the table, I panicked. I ran to the kitchen to unload the dishwasher. And I hate unloading the dishwasher.
Up for the challenge of both puzzle and me, my husband asked me to sit back down. He gave me a strategy. Because whether I liked it or not, I was helping him with this puzzle.
Chronic Illness is an Ugly, Confusing Puzzle
A chronic illness like lupus forces you to sit down at the table. You scramble. You panic. It’s too big. It’s too hard. But if you want any life at all, you’re forced to confront the giant mess before you. 4
As my husband explained in his puzzle lecture, you start with what’s easy: The corner pieces give you structure.
For my illness, these were my doctors—primary care, rheumatologist, neurologist, and my therapist.
Once the corners were in place, I had to fill in the rest of the structure: the medications; the lifestyle changes.
With the edges in place, he suggested I start with the next easiest thing. For the most part, this strategy worked. But like chronic illness, it was still frustrating. The pieces all looked alike. Pieces that seemed to fit, didn’t. I tried forcing them. That didn’t work. Then pieces seemed to be missing. Some were trapped in the box. Some fell of the floor. One got stuck in the lining of my boot. I wanted to throw things. I wanted to throw things at him.
I wanted to quit. Instead, he’d tell me to take a break. And after a lap or twelve around the house, and more than a few deep breaths, I’d come back to the table. Renewed.
What a relief it was when I connected a few small pieces! Seeing how it fit into the bigger picture was, dare I say, exhilarating.
The puzzle took such a long time. It took far more patience than I knew I had. We stuck with it and soon sat in front of a completed puzzle.
I’m still working on the puzzle that is life with a chronic illness. It has required me to find a resolve I didn’t know I had. It has required me to overcome my tendency to run away from things that don’t come easily to me. It has been a lot of trial and error.
Like anything in life, it’s all about your approach. Knowing that there are necessary cornerstones and structures will take you a long way. But prepare to be frustrated. Prepare to need help. Prepare to be angry, to be sad, to be frustrated with yourself; to be frustrated with others.
Whatever you do, dive in. And stay seated at the table. Even if you really hate puzzles.