Life with chronic illness is tough. But we have arthritis, it doesn’t have us.
The same goes for any condition or disability that you might be fighting …. from fibromyalgia, to diabetes, celiac disease, to multiple sclerosis, to lupus, scleroderma, ankylosing spondylitis, myositis, felty’s syndrome, sjogren’s, thyroid disease, bipolar disorder, cancer, and more.
There are so many conditions out there that can prevent you, or me, or any one of us from living a so-called “normal” life….and any one of us can “have” one of them …. but that doesn’t mean that they have to “have” us!
We are not defined by the illnesses or disabilities that we have! Likewise, we did not cause ourselves to have them, and should not feel any guilt or shame. We do not need to let any social stigmas about them or misconceptions about them consume us. Nor should we let any negative thoughts or negative situations that come along with the conditions ruin us.
Yes, I have rheumatoid arthritis (among other things.)
Yes, arthritis prevents me from living what many people would consider a “normal” life. It DOES affect my quality of life. It HAS cost me friends. It HAS cost me income. It HAS cost me from having the type of body that I wish I could have. It HAS cost my my health and well-being.
Gone is my emotional well-being. Gone is my physical strength. Gone is my independence. Gone is my energy.
I’ve made sacrifices. I’ve sacrificed my love of shoes. I’ve sacrificed playing sports. I’ve sacrificed being able to work the type of career that I would be working if I didn’t live with chronic, unpredictable, and disabling illness.
I live with uncertainty. I’m uncertain what the future holds for me. My calendar is dictated by doctor’s appointments and treatments. I never know how I’m going to be feeling day-to-day or hour-to-hour.
But guess what.
My illnesses still – STILL – after ALL of that DO NOT, and WILL NOT control my life.
*I* have them. They do NOT have me.
You never walk in to a doctor’s office and are told, “m’am, the flu has you.”
No. You are told, “m’am, you have the flu.”
This is because YOU own it, and YOU can beat it.
The same goes for just about any diagnosis you are given. Nothing is written in stone.
So always remember that. Every day that you wake up is a fresh start and a new beginning. It is a new chance to make do with your given situation. I know that some days are harder than others.
So here’s what *I* try to remember.
Yes, I have chronic health problems, including, but not limited to, arthritis. Yes, all of these issues have put limitations on my life, and I’ve been forced to make changes and sacrifices.
But guess what?
They’ve made me see who my REAL friends are. They’ve allowed me to weed out people who do not TRULY care. I’m sure you all can relate, right?
My ailments and illnesses have allowed me to become a more empathetic and compassionate person. They’ve allowed me to open my heart to others. To open my eyes to the world around me, and to feel with my heart what other people are going through. When others are hurting or sick, I TRULY can relate. I feel what they feel, and I know firsthand their physical and emotional struggles. Sympathy, empathy, and compassion are some of the world’s greatest gifts. I feel that chronic illness have given these gifts to me on a golden platter. You’ve all gotten that gift, too, through your trials and tribulations!
My illnesses, though in some ways, have robbed me of physical strength, have also made me a way stronger person. I’ve been through a lot. So, in some ways, I am STRONG. So are you. Always remember that. What has been taken from us physically has been given to us exponentially in heart and in character!
I’ve also made friends virtually who have become an amazing support system of people who I can vent to….people who can truly relate and understand on a physical and emotional level what it feels like to be stricken with chronic disease. This is something that no doctor, friend, or family member – no matter how well-meaning – can provide, unless they too are living with arthritis or another chronic and/or autoimmune condition.
Living with nonstop and unpredictable health conditions has also allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of who I am. I’ve learned more about myself through all of this than I think most people have ever been afforded the opportunity to do. I don’t know that most people learn their true character until they are faced with tough situations. For the past few years in dealing with all of these health problems, I’ve developed a healthier and clearer relationship with myself and my inner being. I encourage you all to do the same, as I think that it is important for your overall health and wellness.
So let’s all remember, when we are feeling downtrodden and ready to give up, that we are in charge here. Yes, I am aware that with many conditions there is no “cure.” We may not actually be able to change the course of the disease. That being said, we can still change the way that we feel ABOUT the disease. We may even be able to change the way that we feel while living WITH the disease. We can change our attitude about and outlook towards the disease. And THIS may ultimately end up affecting the outcome, after all. You just never know.
I always say that it never hurts (pardon the pun) to be positive. Realism is healthy and important for making informed decisions about your healthcare….but I think that it is best when accompanied by a big, fat dose of positivity and optimism. Hopefulness never hurt anyone, and, sometimes, is just what the doctor ordered.
Always remember that you have the disease…..it doesn’t have you. As of now, the reality is that most of us are going to be living with arthritis pretty much forever. So why not change our thoughts about it? 🙂
You mentioned the sacrifices you have to make with a chronic disease and I am worried about going to college and choosing a career. I don’t want to waste my time and money if I won’t be able to do the job. How did you figure out what you wanted to do? Ive had ra for a few years but for me it hasnt gotten more serious until recently and its not easy to get used to. Btw i like your blog, its very encouraging 🙂
Alexandra: At first, I wanted to be some high-power PR executive in the entertainment industry. I knew that the long hours and travel and fast lifestyle wouldn’t work with my individual case. There was also a part of me that wanted to teach. So,n I was in graduate school to be an elementary teacher and halfway through with a 4.0 when I had to take a medical withdrawal and leave the program. While I know many teachers with autoimmune conditions like Sjogren’s and Rheumatoid Arthritis and even Multiple Scelrosis, who ARE able to teach, I felt in my personal situation that it wasn’t in the cards for me with my combination of conditions and my physical symptoms. This isn’t to say that YOU can’t pursue your dreams! My path led me elsewhere – and even though I had to sacrifice those careers, I am still doing similar things with my time that I love. I turned a negative situation into something positive by working with the Arthritis Foundation. I am still using my skill of writing and ‘teaching’ others about arthritis and chronic illness through my blogs and social media. So you might not end up working as “much” as you’d like (I do not work full time or even regular part time hours anymore) or in the EXACT career that you pictured – but there are many ways to work while living with chronic illness! You may have to make adaptations – flex hours, working from home, hourly pay instead of salary, or a slightly different field utilizing the same skill set – but you may be able to do what you want to do! It is always worth a try! Good luck! Remember though that you have to look out for your health first. So take care of YOU and then the career and the money will come later! … And I am glad that you like my blog posts! – Ashley 🙂
I really needed this after a rough week. Thanks for the encouragement!
Dear Ashley, Thank you for your honesty and positive outlook. You are a very strong woman and an inspiration. Take care.
Great Blog! Very true and I can relate to each word. Thank you and God Bless!
Wonderful Blog, I could not agree more with you. I define my disease it does not define who I am .