A Love Letter to the Illness That Gave Me Another Chance at Life
The greatest gift my illness has given to me is serenity.
The chance to find it, and recognize when I need it, the value of it and to learn that it’s all I need.
And ever since then, it’s as if physiologically and mentally (spiritually for some) my body has a mechanism to remind me of when I’ve lost it, so I can get it back. That’s why I consider myself the luckiest person on earth, no matter the symptoms or the struggle. Because I have peace. The peace of knowing that tomorrow could be my last day, and that I’m truly OK with that.
It makes every day worth living more than they ever were before.
For some with chronic illnesses that are severely debilitating, to the point where we cannot manage the simplest day-to-day tasks, we may come to terms with the idea that we may never have a “life” as we knew it again. I face the death of the “self” — death of goals and dreams — I see the demise of my relationships and friendships, and everything I once understood about myself falls away. What’s left is the most basic form of myself — the relationship I have with me. There is nothing else when I lay in bed for the seventh month in a row staring at the same four walls. Nothing.
Then comes the depression. It’s the bottomless pit of hell that some people remark as “sadness” because they’ve never been there. In my case I also had a dose of diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder to go along with it.
Then there are the innumerable additional challenges of being chronically unwell, which although universal, vary for individuals. Many chronically ill people suffer with the classic misunderstanding from others, all the way through to a complete a lack of empathy from even loved ones, to downright denial that our illness exists at all — again, even from loved ones. Their opinion of your health is how ill you are. Their say goes. They may tell you you’re not disabled enough for a parking permit or that you’re well enough go to work. Somehow, those who have never experienced a day of your pain are those who may think they know exactly how much you can manage.
The loneliness of the realization that some people who should love you — or have said they love you — actually don’t, was one of the hardest lessons, if not the hardest lesson for me to learn. We assume everyone will care about our loss of life. But I believe now that love is not guaranteed, and so I have learned to appreciate it when I really have it. And so now I will love like I’ve never loved before.
But I didn’t want to write about the challenges. While I’ve always wanted to write/blog about my journey through illness, I could never bring myself to. So, this is a love letter. Not a goodbye, not acceptance, not acknowledgement — a love letter. Because all that I’ve listed above has bought me to this point. A point where I can absorb illness into me, to my new “self,” and fall into a place of complete and eternal gratitude.
So, thank you. Without you I would continue to be blinkered, unaware, unsympathetic to what so many people in the world are struggling with. You have made me unapologetic and resilient. But most of all you’ve taught me my own self-worth, and no one will be able to take that away from me — something people search for their whole lives and look for in relationships, jobs, hobbies. I have it regardless of what I gain or lose in life. I do not walk around with self-doubt, anxiety or wondering “who I am” or “what I’m doing with my life.” You gave me the time and space to consider that. In a way, that’s giving me another chance at life — the chance to do it properly this time. To not waste time.
So, after climbing the mountain and seeing nothing but grey rockface in front of me, feeling the air getting thin with the altitude and finding it hard to breathe, and not being able to lift my limbs above my head from the pain knowing I have to, you finally said to me one simple thing: “Sink or swim.” I’ve reached the top now and I’ve seen the view.
It’s a view that was worth every moment of pain and bead of sweat.
Thank you for everything.
Follow this journey on Alainah Rook.
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