For Anyone With a Chronic Illness Who's Struggling to Keep Up
My doctor seemed confused by the stress over my classes which kept me from moving up the date for a procedure I really needed. The truth was I hadn’t yet admitted how sick I really was or how much it was slowing me down. I was desperately trying to not only keep up, but maintain the perfectionist standards I had put on myself. I’m a college student and I expect a lot out of myself. But that mentality was beginning to interfere with what I needed for my health.
I had a feeling this was a lesson most college students learned at some point in their academic career – that life is more than a good grade. But I never thought it would be taught to me through the serious look on a doctor’s face and his well-intended conviction that the stress carried by my perfectionism was only making my situation worse.
Chronic illness has been my companion for my whole life. It’s something I’ve learned to live with, and it’s not something I’ve allowed to hold me back. I’ve always pushed myself to do anything and everything I wanted to do. But when things started changing several months ago, it became clear I needed a break to let my body catch up to my enthusiasm.
I didn’t want to. It took some big, scary words being thrown around to get me to change my perspective and priorities. Thanks to the concern from my doctor, we finally discovered I had developed a significant issue that would need surgery, time and rest to heal.
Several seasons of my life have been dedicated to “being sick.” There were moments when life fell apart all at once and I had to give myself enough space to focus on what was important while letting go of everything else. But I didn’t want to go back to that place. Real life doesn’t account for such things.
Instead, you keep going when times get tough. No one ever seems to understand why people with chronic illness go through some seasons of energy and other seasons requiring a slower pace, so eventually we stop trying to help them see and just try to follow along with their rules of quantity and quality. We buy into the lie that busyness equals significance and a full schedule equals a meaningful life.
I’m still learning that who I am is enough, even when my health slows me down and I can’t do everything I want to. Sometimes it feels like chronic illness steals everything – your health, your energy, your time, your appearance, your relationships, your focus, your joy, your plans, your dreams – literally everything. In those times, I have a choice: I can push myself to an unhealthy point and try to make up for what it seems I’ve lost, or I can choose to accept that who I am in this moment is enough.
So one Friday night I turned off the alarm just before I fell asleep and allowed myself to rest the next day. I lost most of my study time and I thought it would probably show on my next test, but it was a first step, the loudest statement I could make, towards choosing to believe that I am enough.
I made a choice to put myself above earning a perfect grade. I made a choice to do things differently. I made a choice to prioritize what was important and acknowledge I didn’t need anything other than myself to have significance.
And you know what? It didn’t turn out as bad as I thought. Giving myself a break allowed me to think more clearly and efficiently, and it gave me an opportunity to take care of myself.
I may have to rearranging my priorities for a while to focus on my health. I know it will take a lot of self-control to allow myself to be “sick.” It feels like an imperfection in myself to not be able to do everything important to me right now. But I know I don’t need any of those things. I don’t need to be perfectly healthy to be valuable. I know that I’m enough.
The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Share with us the moment, if you’ve had it, where you knew everything was going to be OK. 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.