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The Persistence of Happiness in the Face of Illness

I spend a lot of time trying to convince people I am struggling, I am in pain, that this experience has been at best overwhelming and at worst completely devastating. I am desperate for understanding, but somehow I have come to believe that in order to obtain it, happiness and pain cannot exist simultaneously. I leave the good parts out because I am convinced they can never help you see the tension that exists between who I was and who I am, they cannot show you the depth of my pain or my exhaustion and they will never be able to explain how I have become consumed by this, why it takes up so much space in my life.

But, as I write and write and write and watch my friends and family read my stories, with their praise clouded by remarks about how sad it is, I am beginning to realize that genuine understanding comes only from truth, and that means all of it. My truth is that even at its worst, my pain has been nurtured by hope and strength and love. There are still good days. And even on bad ones, there are incredible moments.

My boyfriend rubs my shoulder to comfort me and I wince in pain, jerking away, but there is so much tenderness in his touch, so much love in his eyes, so much warmth in his smile. I go out drinking with my friends and find it hard to move in the morning, but the sound of our laughter still rings in my ears and the memories linger with me for days. My little sister wants me to throw her in the air and chase her around the yard and, even though it sets my skin on fire, her uninhibited joy rubs off onto me a little more each time I say yes.

The sun keeps shining even as I curse it for rising in the morning. Happiness persists, just as the pain does.


But regardless of my knowledge that beauty continues to exist, even in darkness, I still write about fibromyalgia only when I feel sad, when my heart is heavy and all I want is to reach out a hand and find someone reaching back. I assume some part of that is true for anyone reading or writing here. We are all looking for a hand to hold as we stumble through our fractured lives; we are all looking for understanding. Unfortunately, sometimes that yearning for understanding can get in the way of the truth (yes, all of it). Sometimes, despite our best efforts to rise above it, we get lost in the pain and forget to appreciate the little pieces of happiness we find hiding in corners.

But even in pain, we deserve joy.

In my darkest moments, there are still flowers and kittens and memes about Nickelback and that one picture of Donald Trump’s glutes as he gets on his plane. There will always be pain, but there will also always be chocolate and soft pillows and gentle breezes on hot days. There will always be people I meet and know who make me feel alive and loved and strong. And if I let myself let go of those glimmering shards of light, I am letting go of myself…and becoming my illness.

Something you learn early on when you find out you have a chronic condition is just how little you can actually control. Your tiny, human hands seem smaller than ever, and you realize that life keeps moving, even when your world is standing still. Even the healthiest of us have very few moments in which we can give a middle finger to the universe, in which we can choose what comes next. I can’t promise I will continue to write about happiness and love and rainbows and unicorns and whatever else…but this post is my middle finger, my opportunity to choose. And in this moment, I want the universe to know that despite its best efforts to direct me elsewhere, I am choosing happiness.

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Thinkstock photo via Natalia Kuchumova.