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What does being diagnosed with a serious disease mean to you? This is a really interesting question, and oddly, one no doctor has ever asked me. Talk about a great open-ended question. If you're at a cocktail party and want to get someone else to handle the bulk of the talking (specifically someone who has been diagnosed with something serious at some point in life), this question will let you off the hook for a good half hour. Come to think of it, I guess that explains why doctors don't ask that question. Bernie Seigel asks this question book, Love Medicine, and Miracles. That book was targeted towards cancer patients, but when I fell ill in 1992, there weren't many books out there for lupus patients. Nor was there an internet. I didn't even have cable TV. I was alone with my illness a lot, so I asked myself this question over and over. And my "friends" offered me ridiculous theories about why I was sick: I was a good Christian, so the devil was attacking me. Oh wait, I was sick because I had a hidden sin in my life and therefore I was out from under God's care. Maybe I was sick because pretty much everyone who worked in the music store where I was working got sick, including my boss, who developed vasculitis (which is so similar in symptoms to lupus, that I think if he had been female he'd have been diagnosed with lupus). People try to blame viruses, and genetics. I even entertained the thought that it was a metaphor for my life: I had become something I wasn't (I wasn't being true to myself), therefore my body was rejecting me. My current belief is that my life was out of balance, I worked too much, and my diet was horrible. I did not detox or get enough nutrients and I was unhappy and stressed, so my body broke down. But really, whatever you think of these answers, none of them are asking the question "What does this illness mean" so much as "Why did you get sick?" And ultimately, most people, God help them, are trying to conjure up a reason that you got sick that will reassure them that it won't happen to them (she worked in that building, and I didn't, so I won't get sick. She has a hidden sin, and I don't, so I'm safe, etc.). So what does it mean? At first, it meant an escape from an unhappy life and a fresh start. Then, it meant a choice between either working constantly at being healthy or just giving up and taking drugs and powering through, settling for less than optimal health and not looking my best. Now, finally, it means achieving balance between taking care of myself and taking care of everything else. But I know this now: I have to put myself first, or there won't be any of me to put anywhere else. Carla Ulbrich _______________________________ Humorous songwriter, Speaker, and Author of "How Can You *Not* Laugh at a Time Like This?" (coming Feb. 1, 2011)

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