The Beauty of Feeling Incomplete as a Person With Chronic Illness

I received some great news earlier this week – I’ve been accepted by a university where I will complete my undergraduate degree. Transferring from my community college is a big deal, as there were (are) abundant obstacles to overcome. This victory comes after several withdrawals from courses and a particularly difficult Fall 2016 semester. Since my medical conditions will continue to be energy- and time-consuming, I’ll be a distance learner. Online classes are my jam, and they offer the kind of flexibility that’s necessary while managing health hiccups and medical appointments. So, this is an exciting academic step forward!

Fear – that old foe – wants to rain on my parade. Instead of letting it take hold, I’m looking at reality. Yes, I’ve left some projects unfinished. “Incomplete” felt like a dirty word until quite recently. As if the very real challenges of my medical conditions should lessen when facing societal pressure to conform, I kept hitting my head against a metaphorical wall. Pride feeds into fear for so many of us. It keeps us running, chasing accolades and acceptance. Yeah, that misallocation of worth only functions for so long. Eventually, we must make our own way, set our own standards for “success,” show our imperfect sides and try to live our most fulfilled lives.

Funnily enough, it was finally giving myself permission to not go to school that helped me realize how badly I want it. Reminding myself of my value as a complex, flawed, beautiful human – apart from titles and papers – freed me from the cage of doubt. I can be “incomplete” or “unfinished” by modern standards and still be a whole person. It’s more than OK to be academically, romantically or spiritually unfinished. Seriously, how boring would it be to “complete” yourself at 21? We all need fresh questions and unmet goals to propel tomorrow. You know – a smidge of flavor.


Chronic illness disrupts the traditional timeline. There’s no use comparing even two people with the same illness because individual patients experience different symptoms. Those symptoms mess with concentration and the ability to get stuff done on a tight schedule, and that’s just a general picture. Will I finish my undergrad degree in four years, including the courses from the community college? Nope. Stretching out the course load and allowing for changes requires a leap of faith. I don’t tick the boxes neatly or mark graduation day on my calendar. In spite of the fear, with confidence that my future can be good, I jump anyway.

“Incomplete” is alright, and “in progress” is stellar. School, careers and relationships might have expected trajectories, but the twisty path is entirely fine. Anticipating bumps and stalls helps me think of the immediate “incompletes” as long-term progress. Reflecting on moments that felt like failures, I can reframe them as moments of determination. Through those rough patches, I’ve determined what matters the most to me. I’ve determined that stretching emotional muscles, gaining new skills, challenging perceptions, and building knowledge banks are important endeavors. Applying my determination to get stuff done, thoughtfully and gradually, goes hand-in-hand with adapting to meet my physical needs. Today, I’m giving myself a pat on the back (figuratively…my shoulders are yelling at me) and celebrating being “incomplete.”

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Thinkstock photo via Kudryashka.

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