When You Compare Yourself to 'Healthy You' After an Illness Diagnosis

Yesterday, I saw one of my middle school teachers among the crowds at my workplace. I thought about talking to him and asking if he remembered me, but I decided against it. Mostly because he was one of my least favorite teachers, but also because I was worried about what he’d think of me today.

woman with monitors on chest

Everyone always considered me to be a bright student. In elementary school, I was told I had the reading level of a high schooler. In middle school, I was accepted into a gifted and talented program. I graduated high school with a 4.2 GPA, which allowed me to become part of the honors program at my university. I studied Spanish and had opportunities to travel to wonderful places. In 2014, I graduated summa cum laude, married my college sweetheart and started graduate school for library science. All of my teachers thought highly of me and that I would make something of myself. An actress, a teacher, an artist, an author.

So what was I doing working 20 hours a week as a front desk attendant? Not long after getting married and starting grad school, I started having difficulties with things like exercising and even doing dishes. Ten months later, I was diagnosed with dysautonomia/postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. In those 10 months, I had quit grad school, gained a fair bit of weight from exercise intolerance, and made more use of my new health insurance than I ever thought. My husband was making enough money to support us both, until my student loans kicked in and the medical bills piled up. We realized I either needed to find a job or attempt to go on disability.

Finding a job with little experience that doesn’t require you to stand eight hours a day is harder than you’d imagine. After a year of searching, I got a job as a front desk attendant. The main duties of my job are done from a computer chair, so I don’t have to worry about my health while at work. However, on my days off I sleep for 12 or more hours to let my body recuperate.

There are times like yesterday when I reflect on my past and compare it to now. And honestly, it makes me feel like I’ve let everyone down. “Healthy Me” had such a promising future full of endless possibilities. But instead I feel I’m working the bare minimum. But “Healthy Me” didn’t know. “Healthy Me” never worried about the limitations of her body and the effects it would have in everyday life. My current struggles and limitations have molded me into an even more compassionate and understanding human being. And I’m still using the smarts and creativity “Healthy Me” thrived on in school. It’s being used in a different manner, but isn’t that what intelligence and creativity is all about anyway? Thinking outside the box?

So yes, I’m working as a front desk attendant. But I’m a very cheery front desk attendant. I take initiative in my workplace. I wear themed earrings. I organize files and troubleshoot computers. I get along well with my supervisors and coworkers. I’m getting quicker at solving cryptogram puzzles. My crochet skills have improved. I have learned to cook meals without burning the kitchen down. I have sold my artwork to people around the world. I have a loving husband who makes me laugh and tells me I’m beautiful countless times daily. I’ve made new friends online who are facing chronic illness battles of their own.

The people of your past (including yourself) do not know what obstacles you have faced in your journey to present day. So be gentle on yourself and know there are many different types of success, big and small.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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