It would be easy to think there is only loss when it comes to chronic illness. At first the losses are all you can focus on actually, but after some time it becomes possible to see what you have gained. I wanted to share my list of things I’ve learned from having a chronic illness.
When it comes to chronic illness, you don’t get to do much choosing. You don’t choose your illness. Your illness chooses your symptoms and severity. Many times you don’t even get to choose your doctor or treatment, your insurance (or lack of) does.
There usually isn’t anything you can do about this lack of choice. In such a case, the best thing you can do is acknowledge there is no choice and accept your situation.
I can’t change the fact I have fibromyalgia and my other illnesses. In accepting that, it relieves stress and helps me through the grieving for my old life. Accepting my old life is gone leaves me able to make new plans and not dwelling on what I can’t do.
Even bigger, I’ve found self-acceptance since becoming chronically ill. I’d like to think I still would have if I hadn’t become sick, but I’m not so sure. I’m pretty sure I would have kept being viciously critical of myself for not measuring up to ridiculous arbitrary standards. High standards are great, but you need to be able to love yourself where you are also. I think this is a lesson I only could have learned from having a chronic illness.
How to slow down
First, painful joints and muscles, and later the effects of my dysautonomia, made me slow down. My whole adult life I’ve walked one speed, and it wasn’t a stroll. This is indicative of how I’ve functioned in general. If I’m going to be doing something, I want to get to it and get it done. Now I have to make a concentrated effort to pace myself and go slowly. I’m not a dawdler, so this has been a hard lesson.
Having to take multiple breaks and plan less in a day was also not something I wanted to do, but it was a lesson I learned from having a chronic illness. Not listening to my body, not slowing down, meant an increase in symptoms and missing out on doing even more than if I had just adjusted my plans to begin with. So, I’ve accepted this lesson too and made myself slow down. A side benefit I greatly appreciate is the fact that I injure myself much less often now.
All that slowing down made me work on my patience too. No longer can I just push through and hurry up. I must take my time.
It took months to learn to be patient with myself. I’ve never been very good at it, and there was so much irritation with not being able to do my usual routine. Many tears were shed in anger and frustration, but I finally found the self-compassion and understanding I needed to be patient.
Another way patience has become important is that I’ve needed to give more chores over to my kids rather than do it all myself. Anyone who deals with children knows that is its own unique drain on your level of patience. I can’t just decide to take over and get it done my way. Careful instruction and calm correction is needed to teach them what needs to be done. Deep breathing comes in handy.
For 16 years I was the type of mother likely to put my kids before myself. It is not healthy to always do this. You deserve to be taken care of just like anyone else. While I had people telling me this, guilt always got in the way of any self-care I might try to practice. After I got sick, I had to learn to prioritize my self-care.
Now I make sure being a mother does not come before caring for my health. My kids come first as often as possible, but when I have a need that has to become a priority, I make sure it happens. Children are able to be wonderfully understanding, and it’s a good lesson for them too. For one, they are learning compassion, empathy, and how to care about someone. Also, I am teaching my kids that self-care is very important, and they should not short change themselves. Loving someone does not mean you need to sacrifice yourself.
Other things I’ve learned from having a chronic illness
These aren’t life lessons, but they are things I really don’t think I would have learned otherwise. Being sick, having to slow down, and finding more patience gave me the time and ability to learn loom knitting, crochet, journaling, and blogging, and that’s just so far. I’m sure I will keep learning things, because:
- I love to learn.
- Learning new things is important for your brain (your mental health and brain activity).
- There is so much going on in the world and I don’t want to be left behind.
- Learning new things just flat makes life more interesting.
I love taking a good look at my life and seeing where things are overall. Being able to see that I have gained so much, even as chronic illness has taken other things from me, is huge, and I’m glad I get to share that with you all here.
How about you? Are you able to see that you gained something positive from a negative event in your life? Please share in the comments below, or feel free to email me.