My Illness Has Become a Constant, Uninvited Companion — And I'm Thankful for It

I usually prefer to choose the companions I want to “do life” with. Chronic illness is a companion I would never have chosen, and yet it has turned out to be a life-changer.

It has become a teacher like no other. It has taught me to listen to my body and really pay attention to my limitations. If I don’t, the price I pay in flares and impossible-to-describe fatigue will do it for me. Like any good student, I want learn and understand, and get the best grade possible. In order to do that I need to come to class prepared. I need to have done my homework and really understood the subject at hand, which is my multi-faceted health.

It has increased my ability to be much more compassionate to the suffering of others. I used to be judgmental of others’ suffering at times, thinking, “If only they did this or that, they would get better.” Now I keep those opinions and unsolicited advice to myself. Instead I choose to come alongside and just be there, however each person needs me to be. It’s what I want others to do for me. I read the Psalms now with a completely different perspective and a whole new appreciation for the suffering David endured.

It has given me time and space to just be myself. My authentic, real, messy self. It’s always around to remind me that life is not a beautiful package, wrapped in beautiful paper with ribbons and bows. It comes wrapped in plain brown paper with smudges and rips, and my name written in crayon. I no longer feel the need or have the energy to be the perfectly packaged version of myself. I can just be myself. Sometimes I feel like a Charlie Brown tree and sometimes I feel like a beautiful pine tree with beautiful, fragrant branches. No more pretense, just real, no matter what that looks like.

It has encouraged me to choose wisely how I spend my time. With limited energy and an unpredictable set of symptoms, I have to decide daily, sometimes hourly, how to choose what I will be capable of achieving. Some days I can go shopping and some days I can sit for an hour-long doctor appointment, but definitely not both in the same day. Some days I can go for a short walk, other days I struggle to get out of bed. Am I able to cook something for dinner or do I need to settle for chips and hummus? It’s a constant dance where my partner keeps changing the pace, and I have a hard time keeping up with the changes.

I would never wish a chronic illness on anyone, but I’m thankful for the companion in my own life. It has smoothed out some really tough edges and mellowed my need to always be in control. It has brought me incredible friends I would never have otherwise met. In conclusion, I have to say, I’m actually thankful for this constant companion.

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