Lessons I’ve Learned From Having A Chronic Illness

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.

Acceptance

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.

"Acceptance doesn't mean resignation. It means understanding that something is what it is and there's got to be a way through it." Michael J. Fox (Lessons learned from having a chronic illness)

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.

Patience

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.

Self-Care

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.

The author's name, Leigh, in red script, to the left with a coffee cup to the right.

 

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38 Things I’ve Learned So Far In My 38 Years

A pink and purple lotus has Happy Birthday written over it in script

Thursday is my birthday! I’m turning 38 and glad to say so. I’ve never had a problem with getting older. Reading about other women finding each successive decade an improvement had a lot to do with that. So far, I’ve found them to be right, and I’m really looking forward to my 40’s. I’ve learned so much over the years, and I look forward to learning more.

So, to celebrate, I decided to use a post idea I saw on quite a few other blogs, and listed out 38 things I’ve learned in my 38 years alive.

1) Other people’s opinion of me is none of my business.

They are going to think what they’ll think. There is nothing I can do about it, so why worry.

2) Nobody is worth changing yourself for.

Always be true to yourself. The most important thing is that you are happy with yourself. It doesn’t matter one bit what other people think if you don’t like yourself.

3) You can’t own people.

Not for love, and not your kids.

4) If you love someone, love them as they are, not as you wish they were.

5) There will always be someone to criticize you; just do your thing.

No matter what you do, someone is bound to judge you and be unhappy, so don’t worry about them, and just do what you want to do.

6) Don’t try to change people.

You can’t, and you shouldn’t.

7) Worry is pointless.

Either you can change/control things, or you can’t. Worry doesn’t change that.

8) Do what you love.

Don’t let life pass you by without doing the things that you love. Find time, make it happen, and ignore anyone who scoffs at you.

9) Your style can be whatever you want it to be.

If you like it, wear it. You don’t have to stick to any set rules when it comes to dressing yourself.

10) Things you procrastinate are rarely as bad as you think they are going to be.

Most times, when I dread doing something, and put it off, the stress of knowing it is waiting for me is worse than actually getting it done.

11) Let the past go/Forgive yourself.

The past is in the past and can not be changed. Don’t bother yourself wit it, but learn and move forward.

12) Failure is a chance.

It’s a chance to learn and improve. It’s only real failure if you quit.

 

"We are all failures - at least the best of us are." J.M. Barrie

13) I love plants, but I suck at gardening.

14) Never diet.

Dieting doesn’t work, isn’t healthy, and isn’t necessary.

15) People are mostly nice.

My social anxiety makes me constantly worry about being judged and more. When I am able to push myself to interact with people though, I usually am pleasantly surprised with how kind they are. It is rare that I have a really bad exchange with anyone.

16) I have good instincts about people.

When I do interact with them, I am rarely wrong about my impressions of what kind of person they are. I’m a damn good reader of people, and have learned to trust my gut if something seems off.

17) High thread count sheets are worth it.

Seriously. They feel wonderful and last longer. Spring for them when you get the chance, or ask for them as a gift.

18) Credit cards are convenient and evil.

Avoid them if possible.

19) Life is impermanent.

Nothing, good or bad, lasts long. Enjoy the good while it is here, and know that the bad won’t last forever.

20) Don’t do what you don’t want to do.

Within reason, don’t do to anything you don’t actually want to do. This isn’t me telling you to break the law or be irresponsible, but play close attention to everything asked of you, and don’t do anything you don’t want to and don’t have to do. (and “what will people think” doesn’t count as a reason you have to)

21) Say “yes” more often.

Not to other people, but to opportunities that you come across. Don’t miss out on opportunities to widen your world view, learn new things or have new experiences.

22) We only have one life, it is up to us to make the most of it.

Find a dream and go after it.

23) Dreams don’t have to be huge.

It isn’t a dream only if it is thinking big like being a baseball player or an actress. Your dream can be whatever size is right for you. Finding a way to be able to support myself has become my dream. It may seem like small thinking to many, but it is just right to me. If it excites you and gives you drive, you’ve got yourself a dream.

24) There is no such thing as normal.

25) When something interests me, I hyper-focus to learn as much as I can.

Knowing this, I do my best to make sure I still pay attention to my needs and practice self-care.

26) Not everyone thinks the way I do.

You can’t always follow someone’s line of thinking or why they do something. Sometimes their brain works in a totally different way. This isn’t always bad or wrong.

27) There is no way to exactly understand someone else. Don’t judge.

Nobody in the world lives the exact same life. You can’t do a straight across comparison of anyone’s experience, so you never know exactly what they are thinking or what you would do in their shoes.

28) Monogamy is not the only right way.

It works for some people and not for other people. Find someone who has the same needs and keep the communication open. All different types of relationships can work.

29) Be in more pictures.

Don’t avoid pictures, because either you or your loved ones will want to see them one day.

30) Own your emotions.

Feel them. Deal with them.

31) We are each responsible for our own feelings.

Don’t rely on someone else to make you happy. Know that it is not your job to make anyone else happy either. If you are mad or sad, figure out why and fix it for yourself.

32) Good, supportive shoes are worth the money.

Proper shoes can make a difference in how you feel from your feet all the way up to your neck/head.

33) Cooking is one way I express my creativity.

I used to think I wasn’t creative at all, and then my husband pointed out I am able to be creative with recipes and ingredients with tasty results most of the time. I’m pretty proud of that fact.

34) Listen to hear/understand, not respond.

Pay attention the next time someone is talking to you. Are you formulating a response? Or are you really listening? True listening is a huge improvement to relationships.

35) Don’t help other people to your own detriment.

By all means help others, but not so much that you don’t notice you are sinking yourself.

36) There is more than one definition of success.

Decide for yourself what your definition is.

37) Mental illness is the same as any other illness.

There is no shame in having it, and you deserve to get treatment while being treated with the same respect afforded to any other person.

38) I’m still learning and working on many of these.

Just because I learned about it, doesn’t mean I’m done learning it.

 

That’s it for this year!

The author's name, Leigh, in red script, to the left with a coffee cup to the right.

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