When I Saw How My Chronic Illness Had Changed My Life — For the Better


I have a confession to make. I am a chronic “if only” thinker.

We have all done it, whether in the hospital attached to a giant machine or couch-bound yet again waiting for the pain medication to kick in so you can get up and shower. Our thoughts drift to the classic “if only.” It’s that downward spiral of thought that can be triggered by just about anything — a friend’s Facebook posts of spontaneous trips overseas that would clash with your appointments, looking outside at the car you can no longer drive due to epilepsy, or even just the smell of freshly-made fudge, which is a big no-no on a ketogenic diet (my nan makes the best fudge ever).

“If only I didn’t have [insert condition here], my dreams wouldn’t be on hold or, in some cases, totally wiped off the board.”

“If only they had done [insert test here] sooner, they would have realized what I actually had and could have treated it better.”

“If only I or my parents/teacher/friend/partner had picked up on [insert symptom here].”’

“If only I’d stayed healthy until I was [insert supposed appropriate age to be this sick here], I would have gotten to do all the things I planned on doing.”

“If only there was a cure for [insert condition here].”

You get the picture.

In an “I do believe in fairies, I do, I do” world, if you wished for things to be different strongly enough, they would be. Unfortunately, from personal experience, I know this isn’t the case. Please don’t confuse this warning against habitual wishful thinking with a crusade against being chronically hopeful. I love hope. I need it. Hope gives anyone with a burden the strength to face another second, minute, hour or day with that burden.

What prompted me to write this post was an article I saw about the “good” things that can come from having a chronic illness. Wait, stop the truck. I was initially quite hurt and angry. I kept reading, though, and by the end of the post I had a new way of seeing how my compromised health had changed my life — for the better. It was as easy as rearranging the words from “if only” to “only if.”

“Only if I had [insert chronic condition here] would I have learned who my true friends are.”

“Only if I had [insert painful symptom] would I be able to fully empathize with what many others go through that mostly goes unnoticed.”

“Only if I had [insert list of dietary restrictions and medications here] would I have been as encouraged and driven to learn as much as I could about nutrition, alternative therapies and how I can look after my body to the best of my ability and circumstances.”

“Only if I had experienced [insert any bad flare-up] would I now appreciate the little things in life, like taking my dogs out for a walk or just getting through a full day of work.”

So here is my challenge to you fellow spoonies: Next time you start heading down that road of “if only,” try to think about the things you are grateful for that wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t sick. I promise it won’t bite.

molly kelsey
Molly holding a dog.

A version of this post first appeared on A Fragile Heroine.

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