Only Love Can Do This: Healing the Chronic Illness of a Country

A black and white head shot of Dr. Martin Luther King, JR with quote text in white bordered by a teal square frame.

I write today filled with sadness at the state of my country. I had in no way planned to write on this topic (albeit, I did plan to write on the Chronic Voice Linkup prompts of Searching, Hoping, Traumatising, Honouring, and Responding this week). But there’s nothing else in my mind and heart at the moment. I ask that you don’t stop reading because it’s not a post focused on chronic illness. I really believe it is. It’s a post about the chronic illness of a country. And just like the warning signs which my body has given me that something is awry at the core of my being and has to be addressed before it fully takes me over, so too are the glaring ominous events of this past week signs that our country is rotting from the inside out. 

As people with chronic illnesses, our surroundings greatly affect us whether it be the weather, the physical structures’ amenities or lack thereof, or the emotional atmosphere. I know that emotional stress is my biggest symptom contributor to physical overexertion a close second. Reading and viewing the events of these last couple of weeks puts my system on high alert status. As a mom, grandma, and retired teacher, my heart aches for the loss of a young dad, father, brother, and a son. As a middle-class white woman, I feel shame that I am a part of the ongoing problem, anger at the utter heinousness of the crime committed by those sworn to protect our citizens-all of them, and despair that this is still such a deep-seated issue in my country that touts its inclusiveness.


Anyone with a chronic illness is searching: for a cure, for relief, for a way to have a purpose, for meaning. A big part of my search has been to find ways to accept my life as is pain and all. When I went through a 10-week pain therapy boot camp last summer (see post), I went through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy counseling. My counselor recommended a few books: Wherever You Go, There You Are by John Kabat Zinn (see post), The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris, and The Book of Joy by Douglas Abrams written about the week of discussion he had with the Dali Lama and Desmonde Tuti.

Photo of The Book of JOy marked with pink sticky notes surrounded by a teal square frame.

I picked it up, finally, after purchasing it last year. I’ve struggled to read print in a book and have been mostly listening to books via Audible or Libby. I’m really enjoying the book, but these past few days the words are speaking to me in a different way. The weight of the murder of George Floyd on May 25th and the recent protests has come to bear on everything I’m doing and thinking.

While lunching with the Dalai Lama, Tutu begins to talk about the basest human longing, to be happy. He says, “Everyone wants a happy life-and our individual happy life depends on a happy humanity. So we have to think about humanity, discover a sense of oneness of all seven billion human beings.”

Again and again, the question I wrestle with is why do we draw these lines of hurtful division? What can one individual do against a systemic racism and prejudice that the great minds of our times and history have not been able to dismantle?


I have to have hope; the alternative is too unthinkable. However, the fatigue of discouragement comes from knowing this narrative hasn’t changed and since just before the presidential election of 2016, has become more jagged and divisive than ever with the encouragement of our current governmental administration. It is palpable, like weights pulling me down. And while I feel like this, I also feel guilty for this because who am I to feel down? I am not having to worry about my son returning home in a coffin after a simple trip to the store. 

One of my friends posted this about white privilege: “You may have had a very difficult life story, but white privilege is when those difficulties are not because of your skin color.” I would go on to add that the color of my skin has actually pulled me out of many of my difficult circumstances (see related post) allowing me to have a life that, yes, I have worked for, but my work was celebrated and strengthened because of my race.

The hope I have is found is in the heart I see in my own children and my granddaughter. Listening to President Obama talk yesterday along with other intelligent, young, black activists who have already been working towards bringing about change, he says, “…I see what is happening with young people across the country. With talent, voice, and sophistication that they are displaying. It makes me feel optimistic. It makes me feel as if this country is going to get better.”


By now most US citizens, if not the world, have seen the traumatizing video of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer while other officers looked on without intervening. As for me, I couldn’t bear to watch it. What impacted me was the public talk by his brother and then another by his wife with his six-year-old daughter lovingly caressing her mom’s long hair as his she spoke through her tears.

This little girl, so so innocent, had to be told that her daddy died because he “couldn’t breathe”. I can’t imagine this mama having to tell her daughter this. I can’t imagine this little one’s life going forward as she becomes more and more aware of what actually happened.

Van Jones shares the impact of seeing people cry out for change after the world witnessed the murder of George Floyd.


This past winter, I visited a health facility in Chicago (my daughter was attending a conference there), so I was allowed a guest pass to hang out for the day. Besides walking the track and swimming, I wanted to use my time to write. I went into the “senior” room because it had a place I could sit and had electrical outlets for my laptop. Besides not being one-of-the-gang that obviously had been gathering there daily, I was the only white person in the room. I sat at an empty table and plugged in to begin writing. I noticed some quite talking and glances my way. I realized later that I had taken a table that a certain group of women used after their Zumba class.

I couldn’t connect to the WiFi, so I approached one of the women talking at the next table who had her laptop up and working, leaving my things taking up a chair and spot at the Zumba group’s table. I asked the tech-savvy, older black woman if she could help me log on. As she, proceeded to welcome me and then helped me to find out the problem I was having, she indicated that the women were wanting their usual table. I could tell she wasn’t a part of the group and that she thought their predicament was a bit funny. Immediately, turning a bit red, I went and gathered my things and headed towards the door. But this tech-savvy woman invited me to sit with her and her friend. Soon into our conversation, we discovered that we were both retired teachers and spent the next hour or so talking. We had so much in common! And the little group of Zumba friends, checking with me that I didn’t still claim the table, went on to have their daily talk over coffee and bottles of water.

Later that night, I began to think about the uncomfortable feeling I had had in a place where the only thing that was different about me was the color of my skin. I also thought about how that “fish out of water” feeling left me as I totally connected with a kindred spirit despite our difference of melatonin.

To honor that special meeting, I decided to write the poem below. I understand that staying to those who are similar to us is comforting. It’s part of our biology that we do so. While it’s needed when we’re infants (to attach us to our protective parents), it is not as we grow older. Yet, this segregation that we choose continues. This seclusion leads us then to develop fear. If that fear is not checked, it will lead to anger and hate.

While stepping out to connect with those who are different from what we see in the mirror is a bit scary and uncomfortable, it brings about an understanding that will heal our society. And if we do this, we will be blessed with a richness and vitality that only that type of connection can give. We lose so much by staying in our own ponds.

Poem font in white over a teal filter of waterlillies.



So, what can I do from my little dot on the global map? There have been many wonderful resources posted this past week, so I will only include a few. But I encourage anyone who has read this all the way through, to really do a self-check to see, as one friend wrote, “where you are in your anti-racism work”  and then, go forth and do something to heal this nation.

The format for this post is thanks to A Chronic Voice link-up. This month, the topics were searching, hoping, traumatizing, honoring, and responding. Each writer takes the given topics and gives them their own spin. Check out these wonderful writers at June 2020 Linkup (scroll past the prompts to find the linked up posts).

teal line drawn waterlily with teal lettering of the title and motto

13 thoughts on “Only Love Can Do This: Healing the Chronic Illness of a Country

  • June 5, 2020 at 5:08 pm

    I'm actually left quite speechless. This post is incredible because you're addressing the current situation with such calm, introspection and warmth. I really hope this movement brings about change especially when I read things on Instagram like this… So I follow a girl who is African American on Instagram and has endometriosis… she recently stated – \”I’m an African American women and I’m 3-4x more likely to die giving birth in the US. 60% of these deaths are deemed preventable.\” …that made me so sad (the link to the post is: ) …this form of discrimination needs to change too. I'm going to remain hopeful that it will.

  • June 6, 2020 at 12:31 pm

    What a wonderful post, Katie. I strongly believe the personal connections we make to people who seem like \”others\” to us is the fastest route to understanding how very much alike we are. I also love that you recognize racism as the illness that is, only it's a lot easier to cure than we think, at least on a personal level. The remedy is simple. It's part experience, like the one you had and a little education on the history of racism and an understanding of how that history continues to influence the laws and institutions of this country. Racism is an illness; one which harms us and our society all a lot more than we realize.

    • September 24, 2020 at 8:15 am

      Beautiful post, Katie.
      ‘Othering’ is a very instinctive thing, part of our evolution. That needs to be recognized and then moved past. We don’t generally discriminate based on eye color, and there are many other aspects of identity (including skin color), that ideally should be treated the same way.
      I actively decided not to watch the video because I am already aware of racism and knew how impacted I would be by the video.
      What I have been focusing on is taking antiracist actions, recognizing and dismantling my own racism, and doing what I can to push towards equality and educate our community.
      Another tie-in with our chronic illness community is the #BlackDisabledLivesMatter submovement and the systemic racism imbued in the medical system. As disabled people, we can spread awareness of how disabled people, especially multiply-marginalized disabled people (black, hispanic, LGBT, etc) are too often brutalized by police , and how Native/Indigionious and black people have the highest rates of becoming disabled (3/10 Native, 1/4 black, as opposed to 1/5 whites).
      It’s scary stuff, but we can fight it, and we can help one another understand and then step forward to improve things, one step at a time.

      I really appreciate your efforts!

  • June 7, 2020 at 1:34 pm

    The words \”the chronic illness of a country\” is so accurate for this disease of racism in our country. It breaks my heart, and convicts me at the same time. \”where am I on my anti-racism journey?\”

  • June 7, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    Thank you for sharing in my sadness. Health care is another systemic problem in our country when it comes to racism. Education. Housing. So many areas that need change. But we can do it if every person truly makes changes in themselves and then takes action.

  • June 7, 2020 at 2:14 pm

    Yes, I do believe we all are a wired to fear differences. However, if we recognize it and get educated, we can then make changes one person at a time.

  • June 7, 2020 at 2:16 pm

    When we actually get to know the person, we come to realize we are the same in more ways then not. Education, though, on how this is an institutionalized issue is very important. Otherwise, we view it as the individual's issue, when no, it's been passed down into systemic barriers that need to be torn down.

  • June 8, 2020 at 6:17 am

    Beautiful post, Katie. I'm so glad you chose to weave this into this month's chronic illness writing prompts. I loved the connection you made while you were visiting the health facility in Chicago. What a perfect place to tell that story. Like you, I have no words for what is happening. I chose to watch that video and felt that I MUST, it was my duty to see it through, even though I knew what it would do to my health. I cried for days after it. I still cry when I think about it too much and have avoided reposts of that video now – the only thing I've been watching for is for those men to be sentenced with murder. Like you, stress and exertion (mental or physical) are my biggest triggers and can throw me off course very quickly. I work hard at keeping 'the noise' to a minimum and keeping within my limitations, but some things come along that we can't and mustn't avoid.I also wanted to mention that I loved The Book of Joy. I've read all the Dalai Lama's books and found great comfort with his discussions with other writers who have been lucky enough to sit and converse with him. Excellent suggestion. Are you on GoodReads?

  • June 8, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    What an important piece Katie, and thank you for using the June writing prompts to share your thoughts about this. I am sorry for the recent happenings in your country. I guess it happens to some degree in every country, but it's pretty brutal over there. Sending love to you and yours.

  • June 8, 2020 at 2:46 pm

    I've always been really impacted by violence. If I see something, it plays again and again in my mind. I can't get it out. Scary movies are out for me. I just couldn't watch the video. But I've heard all the description which impact me nearly as badly.Yes, I'm on Goodreads. You'll notice a great difference in my reading from last year to this so far. I'm struggling with reading currently which is a very strange thing for me.

  • June 15, 2020 at 2:05 pm

    A really fantastic take on this month's prompt. Very happy to have read all of it.

  • June 15, 2020 at 3:37 pm

    I appreciate you stopping by and reading the whole thing, Naomi:)

  • Pingback: Boom and Bust! Pacing Is HARD - Pain FULLY Living

Thanks for taking time to comment. We learn together how to live more FULLY through our interactions:)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.