11 Reminders for When You're Feeling Discouraged by Illness


If you have a chronic illness, such as inflammatory bowel disease like me, or any other autoimmune disease or illness that adds some extra struggling and hardship to your life, this is for you. Here is a guide for getting through the hardest times. It may not work for everyone, but hopefully it will help you in some small way.

1. Remember who you are. You’re a human, not an illness. You have a broad array of titles (such as “friend,” “spouse,” “mailman,” “teacher,” “student,” etc.) that come with being human. You’re not what’s happening to you. You are all the things you choose to be, but you are not what is making you sick. Remember that.

2. Remember your goals – and if you don’t have goals, make some. Decide to do something that will bring you joy, no matter how small it is, and make that a goal. Long-term or short, whatever goal you make is important and you can decide to start the steps necessary to make it possible now. Right now. Even if all you can do at this moment is plan for the future, do it. Don’t forget to keep striving towards that goal, no matter how long it takes.

3. Be open to possibilities (in other words, keep being hopeful). Know that not everything is clear-cut, and sometimes things go wrong that are completely out of our hands, but good things can sometimes happen that way, too. Nothing is always exactly how it appears, and hope keeps us strong even when we’re struggling. Always keep your eyes open for hope and opportunity.

4. When all else fails, relax. Let your body rest. Give yourself a break. Be kind to yourself. Whatever you need, whatever your body needs, tell it it’s OK to slow down for a moment. Take a breath. Think of something inspiring or soothing in some way. Then, when you are rested enough to try again, go give the best you can.

5. When you are feeling judged or misunderstood because of your illness, pause and consider the facts: the person(s) who is causing you to feel this way is not you, they are not inside your body or your brain and they cannot possibly understand what you or I am going through. This is not their fault, it is simply the way life is. You are not under any circumstances responsible for making them understand what you’re going through, nor are you responsible for making yourself do the impossible to suit them. Do what you are capable of within reason. You are human and you are struggling with something else on top of the usual human worries – give yourself the benefit of the doubt.

6. Give yourself the love you need. I have spent so long hating my body for what it has done to itself when I’ve really needed to be on my own side most of all. Be on your own side. Be there for yourself. Because in times that are dark or friendless, you have to be the friend you need. And when you need it most, you’ll be there to catch your own fall in whatever capacity you are able.

7. Failure is not easy, but it is not forever. We have all failed at something at some point – yet we all keep trying. If the thing you are failing at is something you really, really want to do, do not give up on it. It may not happen today, it may not happen tomorrow, but don’t stop trying to reach those goals.

8. It is OK to ask for help. Sometimes we simply cannot do everything on our own. Sometimes we have to ask for help. That is OK – give yourself permission to ask for help when you need it. It is not a sign of weakness. It may take time to find the help you need, but again, do not stop trying to find the help you need and allow others to help you when you do find the help you need.

9. Be your own advocate (e.g. get a second/third/fourth opinion). This is similar to #6 but it’s important enough that it deserves its own number. When it comes to our illness(es), some doctors will struggle with us. Do not settle – make sure you are getting the care you need, and do not accept any doctor’s recommendations that do not seem right or healthy for you. Get a second, a third or even a fourth opinion if that is what it takes to find the care you feel comfortable with. This can sometimes mean life or death, so make sure you trust the doctor(s) you see with the utmost confidence before you follow their advice.

10. Know your limits. This goes back to #4 – if you need a break, relax and take a break. You are not a machine. Sometimes you will reach a plateau where you cannot go any further down the road (metaphorically or literally) you’re on – backtrack and start on a road that’s comfortable.

11. You are amazing. Look at all you’ve defeated already with your illness and your struggle. And you just keep going! I am so proud of you. Keep it up, OK?

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