When a Chronically Ill Person's Strength Doesn't Look Conventional

I was talking with a friend recently and I do not remember the exact particulars of the conversation, but something he said really struck me and has stayed with me for months now. He said, “I am not dependent on anyone or anything. I am not weak.” All I could think in the moment is how much he is dependent on things that he does not even realize, like his health, his ability to work a full-time job, his ability to go to the gym regularly, and his ability to fix himself healthy meals. I, too, took those things for granted once upon a time, but that is a post for another time. When did our society take a turn and start associating dependence on others with weakness? What happened to the old adage of “strength in numbers?”

I began thinking on this comment more and more and as a chronically ill person, it really bothered me. By his definition, I am weak because my illness forces me to be dependent on others for certain things. It got me thinking about my definition of strength.

For me, strength is… when I realize I need help and actually ask for the help I need. It is really hard for me to admit when I need help. Often times when my symptoms are flaring, I will not ask for help even with people offering and will either push through or just ignore the things that I need to get done. The results are a messy house and car and a longer recovery time for me. I am very thankful for the friends who know this about me and will help me regardless. I was really sick one time and jokingly told my friend that the only thing I needed was help with my homework. His response was, “May I bring you breakfast tomorrow?”

For me, strength is…when I plan to go out right when my anxiety kicks in, but I take a few deep breaths and spend time with the people I care about anyway. I might not stay as long as I wanted, but I refuse to let the anxiety win and keep me from spending quality time with people.

For me, strength is…when depression is trying to take over and all I want to do is stay home for days and hide under the covers. I never know what might set my emotions off and start crying… but I go anyway because once again, I am not my depression and will not let it run my life.

For me, strength is… when brain fog flares up right when I had plans with someone. I want to cancel my plans and stay home because they might not understand why I’m not able to think or carry a conversation properly. It is when I am honest with them that my symptoms are flaring, but I still wanted to see them.

For me, strength is… knowing that we all struggle with things that only we can see, so even when someone treats us poorly, we can return it with kindness. We know what it is to put on a brave face when we are hurting. We also may know what it is like to lash out at people unnecessarily because of that pain.

Strength is… being vulnerable. It is knowing that there is strength in numbers and if I would just be real with people about my struggles, I just might find someone else to make my burden lighter and help fight this battle. Even if it is just a listening ear. It is being hurt by people time and time and time again but still giving each new person a fair chance. Stress is very bad for illnesses, but it is still believing in people despite the fear of the pain. Of course, there should always be a level of self preservation. It is knowing that shutting out some emotions can shut out your ability to fully feel all emotions.

Strength is…when I finally decide to write that blog post and post it publicly. It is when I take it a step further and decide to share that blog post with my closest friends and family even though I am afraid it might make me just a little too vulnerable and don’t know if I am ready for that just yet.

But most importantly,

Strength is… when I am stubborn and do not ask for the help I need. It is when I let the anxiety and the depression keep me at home crying alone in my bed. It is when physical symptoms flare and I keep them completely hidden from everyone because I do not want them to see my struggle. It is when I lash out at some innocent bystander because I am having a bad day. It is when I refuse to open yourself up to someone else because I am so debilitated by fear. It is when I cannot sleep because I am replaying every interaction I had throughout the day in my head, afraid I did something wrong and now people are not going to like me anymore and then my heart begins to hurt until I finally fall asleep at 4 a.m. from sheer exhaustion.

However, I wake up the next morning, get up, and keep on fighting. I do this because I know wars are not fought in a day and even though I may lose a few battles, the war has not been lost.

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Thinkstock photo by Grandfailure

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