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Chronic - What's in A Word


Words are important. The words we choose matter tremendously. They often are also subjective. I have a little thing I ask people that I call "My banana". This was something that one of my teachers, Karen Hedger, had inspired and it was such a powerful experience that I have carried it forth all these years.

It goes like this:

I want you to picture a banana. Now tell me what it looks like. What are you picturing?


Sounds super simple....a banana is a banana is a banana.....ahhhhhhh but ask this to 5 people and you will likely get 5 different answers. Maybe your banana is sitting all alone on the kitchen counter. Maybe it is in a bunch with other bananas. Maybe it's peeled. Maybe it's peeled and cut up. Maybe what you picture is an entire banana tree.


See what I mean? A word as simple as a banana can have a level of subjectivity to it.


I have really been pondering on one word lately. The word is "chronic". My reason for this is because I often say "I specialize in chronic conditions" which I do and which is true. And words are important. Words are spells. I have been contemplating on this word....chronic......what does it mean to specialize in chronic conditions? Well....it means that I help people that are dealing with chronic conditions, because I feel I am really good at that work. I have a deep understanding of the intricate tendrils that are attatched to chronic conditions....the physical symptoms of course, a bit about the genetics, and a heck of a lot about the emotions and traumas and what not that seem to keep them locked in. And I have an uncanny ability to notice patterns - which some might refer to as neurodivergence......and yeah,,,,,ok that feels right and all.....but to me it's just me and how I experience the world. I also have a relationship with chronic illness, as I have dealt with my own for most of my life. So, it would seem right as rain that because I have an understanding and because I have done so much work around my own chronic conditions, that I would be really good at working with them.

And then........I thought........perhaps.....because words are important......am I keeping my own self locked into a perpetual state of dealing with my own chronic conditions, because of my choice of speciality....and because words are important.

And so I went on a little adventure with the word chronic......thinking there must be another word to use here that doesn't carry the weight of "chronic" and the sort of stickiness that it seems to convey. Could there be another word that is a bit freer, a bit looser, a bit less "doomed to forever and ever"?


As I always do, I began with the thesaurus.

Chronic.


habitual (thats interesting given the nature of habit)

constant (sometimes it feels this way, sometimes not)

persistent (definitely)

incurable (ummmm wait a minute...thats very doom and gloom)

deep-rooted (This feels very accurate)

continual (yes)

accustomed (ahhhhh now this is interesting)

permanent (nope. don't like that one)

lingering (less doom and gloom)

fixed (is anything really fixed or is it a matter of which way we are viewing it?)

ceaseless (cycles can seem that way....but then we look and realize there is space between)

addicted (this is just as curious as accostomed and habitual....at least in my world....because all of these words suggest choice points.)


Next I went to the etymoloy of the word chronic


early 15c., cronik, of diseases, "lasting a long time," from Old French chronique and directly from Latin chronicus, from Greek khronikos "of time, concerning time," from khronos "time" (see chrono-). Vague disapproving sense (from 17c.) is from association with diseases and later addictions. Literal sense "pertaining to time" is rare in English.


Which led me to look at the word "Chronos"

Chronos in the thesaurus brought forward words like clock, father time, gregorians, tempis, synchros


And the etymology of "Chronos"

before vowels chron-, word-forming element meaning "time," from Latinized form of Greek khronos"time, a defined time, a lifetime, a season, a while," which is of uncertain origin.


Chronos essentially is the Greek word for time.

Chronic with regards to disease means lasting a long time............but not necessarily forever.


And all of a sudden in came the word "chronicle".........which is typically a record of events in the order of time. now to me, because words can be subjective in meaning, I liken the word chronicle to something like a volume.......or one book in a set of a handful, like the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis, The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss, The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan, and an all time favorite of mine, The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. Even the Harry Potter books were chronicles.


And so holding this changes things.....at least for me.


Because when someone talks about a chronic condition.....it feels that it has attatched to it, an infinity.......which means forever....or at least forever in this body in this incarnation. And that certainly feels awful, hopeless, and a bit doomed.

But ........

what if we were to look at it as a chronicle? That feels different to me. It has a feeling of having a beginning (and most people dealing with chronic illnesses can distinctly recall the beginnings).........and is also has a feeling of having an end.......and various stories and adventures contained within.

The visual it brings up to me is of a shelf in a library lined with books with lovely leather covers and ornate gold embossed decorations. As I look at each chronicle in the set of books, I see laid before me my life.........and it is book three where the "chronic" illness seemed to begin.......but then in book five, it seemed to be much less present.......and then it returned again in books 12 through 22...........and a slight mention of it in books 30 and 35.......and then after that just appearing occasionaly in foot notes directing back to books 3, 5 or 12 through 22.

And so what does this all mean to me?

What it means is that things change. Time changes. Health changes. And sometimes it's a chronicle mired in despair and other times it's a chronicle of lightness and wonderment. It can sometimes feel like some of the thesaurs words for chronic......permanent, fixed, incurable.........but I think in reality it is more like accustomed. Sometimes we become so accostomed to what we think something means that we accept it as such and never question if it really means the thing we think it means. And maybe it does. And then again, maybe it doesn't.

What if we aren't chroically ill, but flowing through a certain chronicle right now? And what if that chronicle isn't one of incurable fixed impermanence, but one of accustomed lingering. And what we are accostomed to can change with a simple shift in perspective and a new choice.


And......of course....I could ramble on the tendril that keeps poking at me with chronos meaning time..........and that perhaps there is a relation of chronic illnesses being a sort of "stuck in time" which fits because trauma is a freeze in time, and traumas are often deeply connected to the stickiness of chronic illnesses........but that is an exploration best saved for another time......

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