6 Things That Are Completely OK If You Have a Chronic Condition
Life as a chronic illness warrior means there are lots of things that are not OK, but here are six things that are completely fine to be OK with:
1. It is OK that you have completely changed as a human being.
Chronic illness changes you and it can change you in ways far beyond the physical and the practical. Your level of empathy for others, your outlook on life, your inability to tolerate other people’s BS, your faith and spirituality, even your politics (nothing changes your views on politics quite like suddenly experiencing life as an underdog!) And that’s OK.
What’s not OK is trying so desperately to cling on to the old you, trying to be a person you no longer are, that you hold yourself back from becoming the person you could be. It’s natural to be afraid, but maybe it’s time to let go of the old you.
2. It’s OK that you are making it all up as you go along.
This illness has made you a kick-ass chameleon, a fearlessly flexible force to be reckoned with. On most days you really might not feel like you are, but you deal with big life changes the way other people change their socks. So it’s OK that you don’t have all the answers. It doesn’t help that the questions keep changing… but you will keep finding a way.
3. It’s OK that your normal looks nothing like other people’s normal.
Behind every staged, perfect home in the magazine, behind every photo-shopped photo and filtered Instagram, is a person just trying to find their way in life. Everyone is just working out their purpose like you and while there may not be an illness for them to worry about, they will find other anxieties. Human beings are especially good at finding problems and flaws where there are none. You can bet that perfect facade often hides a lot of insecurities…
…and so what if their life really is as amazing as it looks? Be happy for them, too — their happiness doesn’t stop your own happiness. There is plenty to go around. You have been blessed with empathy and with knowing what struggle feels like, so approach everyone in life like they are struggling, too, and kill the jealous green-eyed monster with kindness.
4. It’s OK that you are “high maintenance.”
Well… it’s not OK to demand people spend their money on you and bend to your every whim; no, this is a different kind of high maintenance!
There’s a thing I do, where I imagine some people who don’t have any illness. I imagine their relationships (friends, partner, etc.) if one of them had a chronic illness. Now, I have no proof that their relationships would not fare so well, but it’s easy to imagine that many relationships could not withstand that strain. The dynamic changes, the “breadwinner” role shifts, suddenly you can’t measure a person’s contribution to the relationship in the same way, suddenly you have to appreciate the love and kindness and gratitude a person with illness brings to a family rather than just the money, the housekeeping, or the physical things they do.
It takes a strong bond to survive chronic illness in your relationships, and it is completely OK to expect that your other half or your friend will accept the very different ways in which you contribute, support you without making you feel like you are a burden, and for you to expect unconditional love and kindness. That is not selfish, that is allowing yourself to be truly loved in the way you deserve and the right people will fall over themselves to be that person to love you. The wrong people will helpfully remove themselves when the going gets tough and that’s OK, too. It’s like the trash took itself out (and if there’s one thing we can’t abide with chronic illness, it’s trash day!)
5. It’s OK to be emotional.
What is it with this world and trying to suppress our emotions all the time? If you are sad, cry. Cry in front of someone, get angry, say what you really feel. Make people uncomfortable. You are not a machine, you are a human being and it is not your job in life to pretend. Real friendships, connections, love… they thrive on heartfelt emotion, and they start with real words and conversations. They grow with every layer you peel off and every wall that is torn down. Empathy and understanding from others happens easier when you can let them in and show them what it’s like to be you. Share your pain, your struggle. Also share your uniqueness, your kindness, your love and passion for the things in this world.
It is your right to feel what you feel. Let it out. There is no shame. Your feelings are the way your body and mind copes with the huge changes you are dealing with, so use them to your advantage and have a good cry. Get an old set of dishes and smash them. Scream. Write an angry letter even if you never send it, fill a diary with your thoughts and feelings. Sit a friend of partner down and ask them to be silent for a while so you can really tell them how you are feeling. As them to listen. Hug someone… even if your family is driving you crazy, even if they don’t understand. Give them a hug anyway. Hugs are amazing.
6. It’s OK not to be a success story.
So your plans have all gone up in smoke and you didn’t have a plan B or plan C or even a plan fricking Z because you could never have foreseen this. And you’re angry because the media is full of victories and winning against the odds and plans and strategies that do not apply to your life. This is not something you can overcome with willpower, and your inability to suddenly “heal yourself” is not a reflection on you. It is a reflection on our society which is so used to there being an answer, a doctor, a new cure, a new strategy. The fact is, our society seems to hate the unknown, the incurable. Our “Google” society hates that there are some questions that have no answers. Even ourselves, as a member of that society, sometimes can’t believe that there is no answer and we beat ourselves up for not being able to find it!
You are not here to be a success story. You can claim your own successes in your own way and you don’t need the rest of the world to validate them. You are still here fighting every day, finding new ways, finding the purpose, seeing the small wins, finding something to smile about, doing it all in your own amazingly unique way…
…and that, my warrior friend, makes you a success.
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