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10 Unexpected Lessons I've Learned From My Chronic Illness

When I was diagnosed with a chronic illness, it opened up a whole new world of experiences and perspectives. The effort I had to put into just existing in a society designed for the able-bodied changed how I saw the world. From the moment of diagnosis, I began a journey I could never have imagined, and it taught me lessons I never knew I needed to learn. Here are 10 unexpected life lessons I learned from my chronic illness:

1. People can be both better and worse than you think.

Illness tends to bring out the best and the worst in people. You quickly find out how awesome some of your friends and family are. Sometimes people will be there for you that you might have never predicted. You also find out that having an illness can make you a target for criticism and judgment. You have to develop a thick skin and learn how you’re going to handle discrimination.

2. You are stronger than you think you are.

You never know how strong you are until that moment when your whole life crashes down and you’re left to pick up the pieces. You can do hard things, even when you think you can’t.

3. The human body and spirit has a surprising tolerance for pain.

During one of those most painful experiences of my life, I found myself joking about it with the nurses. It still boggles my mind that I was able to do that while simultaneously wishing for death.

4. There is more to life than being healthy.

It turns out you can still live a joyful life, even though you feel terrible all the time. You will still experience regular ups and downs. You will still have moments of joy and wonder. You can still develop meaningful relationships with the people who really matter. You can still be a good person who makes a difference in the world. Your health is not everything you are.

5. Doctors don’t always know everything.

Some doctors don’t handle chronic illness very well, so if you have a chronic illness, you might come to know more about your illness than your doctor does. The key is to find a doctor who isn’t threatened by your knowledge and is willing to work with you.

6. Laughter can make everything better.

Even at my sickest, as long as I’m able to maintain my sense of humor, I know I will be OK. I believe sometimes you have to laugh so you don’t cry.

7. There are people out there who are experiencing the same thing you are.

There are so many times I have felt completely alone in my struggle, and then I got on the Internet and found thousands of other people going through the exact same thing. I will read someone’s blog post and find myself in tears because they expressed my emotions exactly. Internet support groups can also be helpful when you have a chronic illness, if only to validate your experience and to remind you that you are not alone.

8. Being positive can’t fix everything.

Positive thinking is a coping mechanism, not a cure. Having a positive attitude is often helpful, but it can’t make you better, and there are times when it is appropriate to cry. You can’t be happy and positive all the time. Allowing yourself to feel is important. It’s OK to feel anger and despair, and then move on from those emotions when the time is right.

9. Some things are beyond your control.

You can manage your illness and your body like a pro, but there are always going to be things you can’t control for. Your body is going to let you down at inconvenient times, and there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it. Your doctor is going to screw up your medication and send your health into a tailspin. Your insurance is going to refuse to pay for the treatment you need and prevent you from progressing like you want. These things will happen to you, and it will be frustrating. You have to focus on what you can do and not feel guilty about the rest.

10. This is your journey and yours alone.

You may have all the support in the world from your family, friends, doctors, etc., but this is your journey, and you have to learn to deal with it. You have to rebuild your life around your illness, you have to handle all the ways illness has changed who you are and you have to figure out who you want to be. You can (and should) rely on family and friends for support, but at the end of the day, you alone need to decide what kind of person chronic illness will make you.

Follow this journey on Chronic Mom.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.