I am human. Though I strive to live a positive, beautiful life even with chronic illness, at times I grow weary of always being sick, discouraged by the pain, drained from the fatigue, and down in the dumps because of my general health situation, from an overall standpoint. I get frustrated waiting for my “someday.”
I’m sure that many of you can relate.
However, I’ve learned that it is during these times where our strength and character are tested the most. It is in these times when we have the opportunity to grow. Our situation may test us, but it doesn’t have to torture us — at least not all the time.
I’m trying to learn to focus on how far I’ve come despite my illnesses, instead of how far I have to go. I am trying to choose to focus on what I have done, and what I can do, versus what I cannot.
It is easy in times of struggle to want to give up or to be pessimistic. I would rather not take the easy way out. I’d rather fight for happiness; I’d rather challenge myself to live a full, thriving life, filled with love, laughter, joy, and accomplishments.
Sometimes, I struggle with the easiest tasks: opening a jar, lifting a 5-lb dumbbell, walking up and down the steps, eating, sleeping, simply making it through the day. Not many people realize how difficult and all-consuming these conditions are, unless they, too, bear the burden of living with them.
But, it is amazing how resilient our bodies and our spirits truly are, if we allow them to be. I, like many of you, could make a list a mile long of health problems and other struggles I’ve faced in life. But if that list is a mile long, then my list of positive and happy things, of things for which I am grateful, and of things I have overcome is two miles long … or maybe three … or even ten.
Living with these kinds of health problems changes the way we live, but it doesn’t have to change who we are at our core. It doesn’t have to strip us of our identities, rob us of thriving lives, or saddle us with a defeated mindset. We can still have ambitions, but our strides towards those goals may look more like baby steps. Or we may have to take an adapted route to get there, or perhaps slightly modify the final destination that is our end goal. But our journey still has value, and still contains the same opportunities for growth and hope and happiness and success as the journey of someone who is healthy. If anything, being faced with adverse health problems makes our journey all that more impressive. There is enrichment to be found in all of those difficult roadblocks, twists, turns, nooks, and crannies along the way. There is a certain beauty to being vulnerable and able to see a situation from a different perspective — and sometimes, being ill forces us to do just that.
For all the days I cannot open a jar or make it through a workout, there are days where I accomplish tasks big or small that remind me that I’m still alive. In the past week, I took a Zumba class, volunteered at a food bank, completed my novel, spent time with friends, and so on. Sure, there was also a day where I cried during a workout with my husband, and another day that I spent mostly in bed because of being sick with a migraine and a rheumatoid arthritis flare. But all of those good things make up for the bad and remind me how far I’ve come — for the good days outweigh the bad ones, and even just a few short years ago, the bad were most definitely outweighing the good.
Even during that time in my life, though, I strove to accomplish what I could with what I was given. My attitude towards my illnesses perhaps wasn’t as evolved as it is now, however, and I think that held me back and negatively affected my day-to-day life, too. I was taking that easy way out, wanting to give up. It’s easy to sleep days away when you don’t feel good; it’s easy to get caught up in the mindset of being a victim or playing the patient card. What takes strength is to live your life each day to the fullest. It takes strength when you’re saddled with chronic health issues, bearing this cross, and yet still manage to get out of bed. To care for yourself. To care for your children, your pets, your home. It takes strength to still have goals and ambition. It takes strength, some days, to just live.
Our characters are tested often because of our chronic illness. In fact, I’d say that because of our health problems, many of us face even more tests of fortitude than the average person. I think we who are chronically ill also, at times, fall under more scrutiny and face even more judgement than the general (healthier) public faces on average.
Is it fair? No. Is that life? Yes. And our lives may be harder than most people will ever know — but what I have realized about that is that it still doesn’t give us the right to complain all the time, to treat other people negatively, or to take our problems out on others. It doesn’t give us a “free pass” to treat others OR ourselves poorly or without respect. It also shouldn’t give us a “free pass” to be lazy: there’s a difference between resting when you need to, and laziness. It shouldn’t cause us to simply give up. Why? Because we are worth more than that. We deserve just as good a life as anyone else; but only we have the power to make that happen. Being sick doesn’t have to equal having a bad life.
And our lives may not ever look like our best friend’s, our neighbor’s, our sibling’s, and so on. But it is our own. The important thing is that we live it, as best we can, and that we are always striving to better ourselves, better our health situations, and make strides towards our goals, big and small, day by day. Let’s aim for PROGRESS not PERFECTION. Let’s try to get BETTER not be BITTER. Let’s turn our MESS into our MESSAGE.
Let’s live by example to show the world that having a health problem or a disability does not decrease our value. Let’s SHOW that we have a lot to offer. Let’s SHOW that we have not given up on living. Only through our actions will the negative stigmas of being sick be erased. We don’t have to look sick or act sick to give credibility to our illnesses: who are we trying to put on a show for? We (and our doctors) know the struggles we face daily, and all we can do is try to spread awareness, advocate, and educate. Beyond that, we do not have a responsibility to act like a patient or a victim, or what the world thinks a sick or disabled person should look or act like. Let’s not stifle ourselves, our personalities, or our aspirations and dreams, just because we are laden with some rotten luck when it comes to our health. It’s no fault of our own that we have to live with these health problems; we shouldn’t let it embarrass us or make us feel “less than” or insecure.
I challenge you all to live the life you want, to cultivate a life worth living, despite your illness, whatever that illness (or in many of our cases, illnesses, plural,) may be. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have setbacks, bumps in the road, or ups and downs. You will. It doesn’t mean that you won’t fail. That will surely happen. Your journey needn’t be perfect, but you need to be ON some kind of journey
to truly thrive. A bad day or a bad week shouldn’t make you give up for good. It’s tempting when we have a few bad days, weeks, or months, to allow ourselves to stay in that rut. But even on those bad days, there’s usually some good, or some hope, to cling to. There’s usually something to be grateful for. Focus on that. People like to say, “things will get better someday.” They might. But they might not. If they do, then that’s amazing. But don’t wait until the “someday” to start living or start doing what you want to do in life. “Someday” may never come. So do the best you can now, for the present moment is all we are guaranteed.
Someday is now.