In the world of chronic illness, there are many things about which we simply do not have a choice. I didn’t choose rheumatoid arthritis, or osteoarthritis, or celiac disease, lupus, sjogrens syndrome, chiari, and so on. Likewise, I’m sure that you did not choose whichever illnesses or disabilities that you may live with. As I’ve said many times before, however, I firmly believe that we do get to choose our attitudes about our given situation. We get to make a choice of how to respond, of what kind of mindset to aim for, of how we treat others, how we present ourselves to the world, and, believe it or not, even the very thoughts that enter our mind. I have had many people on this blog leave hateful comments because they don’t believe that we are given a choice in this situation. Well, sure — you aren’t given a choice, in most instances, of whether or not you’re going to be sick. But I will always stand by my belief that you are given a choice in how you personally approach your circumstances.
With all of that being said, I didn’t always make the right choices in life: not in regards to my health or as a whole. No one is perfect and I, like all of you, will continue to make mistakes as this beautiful life marches on. But the good news is, it’s never too late to have a fresh start. I used to constantly complain about my conditions to anyone who would listen. I did it in a veiled fashion, discreetly, but still pretty regularly. I had a bad attitude about my health & body that I tried to hide, and with it, bad self-esteem. I felt like my “identifier” was that of a sick person, and so I became, well, a sick person. No, I didn’t cause my ailments, but there’s a difference between being a person with an illness and being the consumate “sick person.” You all know what i mean, and some of you may even BE that person. I was in denial that I ever was that person, but I was, at least somewhat. For a period in my 20s, I identified so much with my being sick that it was difficult for me to separate my true self from my conditions and all that came along with them. A string of bad relationships, bad luck, and broken friendships didn’t help. But, finally, I woke up and realized: I’m doing this to myself. Again, I wasn’t causing the pain, the symptoms, or the sickness. But, I WAS causing an aura of negativity that clouded my vision about myself, my life, my abilities, and even the world around me.
See, I think that those of us who are ill can choose to be defined by it, or not. It will always be a (big) part of our identity, but that doesn’t mean that our sickness is who we are at the very core, and it needn’t be the biggest part of our lives or our personalities. I think we also have a choice of inspiration or isolation. We can create further divisiveness with the “outside world” by pushing our friends away, retreating into our shells, becoming solely a homebody, and having little-to-no interactions with “healthy” or “normal” people outside the home. I think that when we do this, it’s almost a defense mechanism — a way for our minds and our fragile hearts to avoid that ultimate thief of happiness: comparison. When we compare ourselves to others and how they look, what they have achieved, what they can accomplish, how healthy they are, or are physically able to do, it reminds us of all of our own shortcomings. This can create feelings of bitterness, jealousy, or even hatred towards those who aren’t ill. It can also create feelings of hatred towards ourselves, and our bodies. This isn’t healthy.
While I do crave my alone time (after all, I am a bookworm and a writer, by nature,) I’ve found that I mostly crave people. I need a support system to thrive. I need relationships. I need to be social. I need to encourage and be encouraged, to love and to be loved. I need to practice kindness and would hope that it is returned to me. I need to share values with others. I need connection. Without this network of people both in real life and online, I would be lost. I would probably isolate myself, which would in turn make me focus more on my health, or lack thereof. Instead, I now seek out normalcy. I am not jealous or bitter when those around me accomplish things I cannot. Sure, at times, I may feel like I’m “missing out” on something — but that’s only human. Truth be told, I get truly inspired by others. I think that positivity is contagious. I love to hear stories of people who are sick or disabled doing great things. I equally love to hear stories of healthy folks doing the same. I am so grateful to have, somewhere along the way in my 30 years, slowly lost my constant need to compare myself to other people. Don’t get me wrong: I’m human. Occasionally, I’ll see another young woman my age and wish that I had her hair, or her butt, or her handbag. But, it doesn’t make me hate her. It doesn’t make me want to isolate myself from the world. It doesn’t make me want to give up … it makes me want to work harder to go after the things that I so desire.
I can’t tell you when or how this change in spirit happened to me. Even looking back at blogs from the past 4 or 5 years, I can see the change occurring. I see a shift in the way I talk about my health, and I like it. I realized that I chose a path of inspiration. I chose to be inspired by other people, and by the world around me. I chose to find gratitude, beauty, and happiness in the everyday parts of life, as well as within the big, exciting things. I chose to have a mostly positive attitude, and to try to help, educate, support, encourage, and inspire others who are in similar situations to mine.
It isn’t always easy, and I’m not perfect. I have hard days like today, and I have times where I wish I could run, or wish that I didn’t have to worry about pain or hurting myself or medications or my crappy immune system. But, what makes those days easier is the inspiring people around me and the inspiration that I’ve found within myself.
I cannot tell you how much I’ve been inspired by fellow women over the past year or two. From hearing amazing speakers at the last Pennsylvania Governors’ Conference for Women, to the awesomely strong, confident, and athletic ladies at the kettlebell gym that my husband teaches at (and where I occasionally attend if my body allows it,) to the lovely women at my church’s small group who I quickly formed a bond with and an affinity towards, awesome women are all around me. I have to mention the Tone It Up community, too, which has given me such motivation, confidence, encouragement, accountability, support, and inspiration surrounding fitness, health, wellness, and my body. It is wonderful to see women coming together and supporting one another in a positive and uplifting manner, instead of being competitive and tearing one another down. But that’s not all: my husband inspires and encourages me. So do my parents, my brother, and all of my absolutely wonderful family, friends, and even my pets. Do-gooders in the world inspire me. My favorite celebrities and authors inspire me. The God who I believe is my source of strength in times of pain inspires me and allows me to inspire others. See, now that my eyes and my heart are open to it, I’ve found that inspiration is all around me. Support is all around me. These tools are there for you, too. You can be inspired. You can inspire. You have support. But, here’s the thing: sometimes you have to seek it out. Not everyone has a tightknit family, or a close group of friends that they can rely on. However, you can always choose to put yourself out there, instead of further isolating yourself by perpetuating the belief that you are alone. Loneliness can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if you let it, and it’s really a vicious cycle. The more depressed you become, the more you push others away, but that’s when you need them the most. Something I like to remember is that just because you are alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. There are many ways to meet people, whether it be a friend, a spouse, a pen pal, a workout buddy, or just another “sick” person to commiserate with. Become inspired to put yourself out there. Become inspired to broaden your horizons and expand your social circle. Try something you’ve never done. Speak to someone new. Whether it’s a social group, a gym, a church, a class, a volunteer organization, a support group, a neighborhood, or an online community, there are options there and ways for you to reach out.
By focusing on relationships with others and the inspirations that can be found in everyday life, you will be likely to focus less on your physical ailments. Your sickness won’t go away, but your negative feelings about it just may. Instead of isolating yourself from the world around you because you feel different or disabled, choose to make your thoughts different, disable the negative self-talk, and isolate negativity from your life.
We don’t always have the power to choose. Sometimes we’ll win, and sometimes we’ll lose. The trick is to make the right choices about what you have the power to change, and accept that if the rest doesn’t ever change, you’ll be okay because you’re doing your very best.
If I go to bed each night knowing that I have made an effort to be the best version of myself that I can be on any given day, no matter how fabulous or how flailing that was, then I feel like I’ve been a success. So this excruciating flare I’ve been suffering as of late? No, I can’t change that. The pain and discomfort are there. They’re part of me. I didn’t choose it. But I did choose to sign off this computer tonight with a smile on my face, and I hope that you will do the same … sick or not.
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