7 Reasons It's OK to Not Be Thankful for Your Chronic Illness
I’ve read several stories recently where people talk about being thankful for their illness or that they consider their illness a friend. If you can be thankful for your illness, more power to you, friend. However, if you aren’t thankful for it, I don’t want you to feel bad. I’ve talked with individuals who feel like they’re failing because they aren’t thankful. Reading those articles can cause some serious self-doubt, but it’s OK to view illness differently. Don’t feel bad if you aren’t thankful. There is no shame in not liking your illness. There is no “secret ingredient” to a peaceful relationship with your illness. Here’s why:
1. No one experiences chronic illness the same. We all have a different relationship with our illness. For some people, it’s a source of inspiration. For me, it’s more like that ringing in your ears you get after going to a rock concert. You know what I’m talking about? It’s there and nothing you do is going to make it stop, but you learn to not be annoyed by it after awhile. Except the metaphorical ringing in my ears never goes away, unlike the actual ringing after a rock concert. Everybody following the metaphor here? I should note that I haven’t had a lot of coffee yet today, so my descriptive language may be lacking in coherency. The point here is that you should be you. You are the only person who has to come to come to terms and find peace with your illness.
2. Not being thankful doesn’t mean you’re a pessimist. Honestly, I think I’m very realistic about illness. I don’t ever wake up thinking, “Yes! I am so excited that my body is trying to starve itself today! It’s so much fun that my joints are all swollen!” I would probably be concerned if I did have those thoughts. However, I also don’t wake up thinking, “Life sucks. Nausea sucks. Pain sucks. I give up.” I’m pretty sure today’s line of thinking was, “Coffee. Need coffee. Very nauseous, should find some crackers. But first, coffee. Oh hey, I have time this morning to read. Nausea. Coffee.”
3. It doesn’t mean you’re unhappy or you don’t like your life. I’m a pretty happy person, whether that be from the peachy disposition of those around me, the medications that happen to have side effects of happiness or the fact I’m just a f*cking ray of sunshine. Probably a combination of all the above. I also like my life. A lot. I have a great job in public health, the world’s best circle of friends and a significant other who doesn’t judge me when he finds me curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor. He also goes to get coffee and delivers it to said bathroom floor. What more could I want?
4. It’s different than being an overall ungrateful person. You can still be grateful for the things you can do and the people in your life who make living with chronic illness easier, without being thankful for the illness itself. I mean, I’m not thankful for snakes. Wouldn’t go near one for all the money in the world. Doesn’t mean I’m not grateful there aren’t many dangerous ones in Michigan. Seriously, Indiana Jones, just leave the Ark. It’s not worth it — just let the snakes have it.
5. It doesn’t mean you’re angry about it. I’m not angry about having gastroparesis or rheumatoid arthritis. I’ve accepted they’re a part of me, and I also know there’s more to me than just chronic illness. Sure, we all have times we get pissed about it. That’s fine. Let yourself feel that emotion, then let it go and move on. I don’t have the energy to hold onto anger anyway. It also doesn’t mean you’re emotionally detached.
Your illness doesn’t have to be “good” or “bad” at any given moment. Sometimes it can just be. See #1 about the ear ringing. It’s just there.
6. It doesn’t mean you haven’t learned anything from your illness or that you aren’t thankful for what you have learned. I think it would be hard to not learn from experiences of any kind. Whether it be learning to be empathetic, understanding the importance of planning ahead or being able to re-thread your pH monitor back down into position in your stomach (there was no way I was going to redo that test and have the monitor in for yet another 24 hours because it had shifted up — h*ll to the no), these are all important skills. You can be thankful for the lessons you’ve learned without being thankful for the reason you had to learn them. It’s like being thankful for reconnecting with an old friend, but not being thankful it happened because you ran into each other at a funeral. See what I mean?
7. It doesn’t mean you’ve given up or are lacking in mindfulness. Just because I’m not waiting for a miracle doesn’t mean I’m giving up the fight. Instead, it means I don’t need a miracle to be OK with who I am. Would it be great to wake up one day with no health issues? Sure it would. I’m not holding my breath though, because it’s not that easy. Instead, I’m taking my health into my own hands by following doctor recommendations, making healthy lifestyle choices and attempting to meditate and stay present. Although, me meditating looks a little bit like Po meditating in “Kung Fu Panda.” I’ve totally yelled “Inner peace, you’re going down!” before. I was laying face-down in the backyard at the time though, so the neighbors probably don’t know what to think.
Stop shaming yourself if you aren’t thankful for your illness. It’s really OK. In the grand scheme of all the things you’ll beat yourself up about over the course of your life, this shouldn’t make the list. Also, go watch “Kung Fu Panda.” If that doesn’t make you feel at least a little peace, I don’t know what will.