What doesn’t kill you can make you stronger.
What doesn’t kill you can erode you into a bitter and unhappy person.
4 lessons from my illness, for which I am grateful
- Empathy: Losing control of my health has opened me up to suffering in a personal way. So many people walk around carrying immense burdens- some visible, some not. I feel the disappointments, confusions, and ugliness of life, in a way I never had before getting sick. It’s compassion on a whole new level.
- The Moment: I know this gets talked about a lot (in the chronic illness communities and elsewhere), but I really am learning to dwell in the joyful moments (without agonizing over when the feeling will end, where it came from, what it means in the timeline of recovery, and so on). I have two options: live in constant anxiety… or learn to dig the good times.
- Vulnerability: I have come to know my ego and seen how it can serve to keep me isolated. I am learning that genuine connection can happen when I drop my inflated sense of self and control and let people in. I am quite a mess, which works out great, because most people are!
- Entitlement: I see now that for the first twenty-five years of my life, I behaved as if I deserved full opportunity. I was so accustomed to privileges that I expected them! I lived as if I was entitled to: physical health, safety, mental health, financial security, independence, intelligence, physical beauty, choices, mobility, free-will, youth, and so on. I know now that all of these privileges can change in an instant. And I also understand that- while I may resent the new set of limitations in my life- I still walk around heavily clad in privilege.
4 lessons from my illness, which were a drag to learn
- Take responsibility as the patient: Never enter a medical procedure without first educating yourself to the best of your ability (hooray for the age of information) about the process and its risks. Many mistakes are made, often casually, by medical professionals (they are humans, ya know), so if you’re prepared to put your body in their hands, come armed with knowledge. Better yet, come with an informed and attentive friend or family member.
- Don’t try to slug-it-out: Beating a physical illness (at least my particular one) is not a matter of pushing myself everyday (unfortunately). It isn’t like climbing a mountain or studying for an exam. Progress isn’t linear, it doesn’t always make sense, it doesn’t matter how strong my desire is… this is not a race to the finish. This is probably the most frustrating part of my illness, because I seem to need to re-learn this lesson about once a month.
- De-mystify things as much as possible: When I kept a symptom like my neck pain entirely in the realm of how it feels, it became something like a monster. Finding a way to intellectualize what is happening in my body has helped me feel less terror (and probably, as a result, less pain). Reading books about the mechanics of inflammation, the biology of a virus, and the complexity of the immune system is helping me be less emotional about my symptoms. Even though science and medicine don’t have a full grasp on what happens with chronic illnesses, there is still a good body of knowledge from which to find some sense of rational understanding.
- Don’t play with self-pity & self-harm: You know when you’re just at your emotional end and you feel like being obnoxiously self-destructive? I’ve had a handful of those days over the last year, where I just say “fuck it” and try to pull a Courtney Love and hope that I get some kind of relief or satisfaction. Like if I throw a big enough tantrum, something will change. But, for me, these fits only put me into another hole I have to climb out of. A waste of precious energy. I know it’s daunting to try to do the right thing every single day. I stick with always do your best.