A pocket watch swinging in the air.

When Chronic Illness Makes You Give Up Your Planned Timeline


Before I got sick, I had always been the “five year plan” person. At any given time, if asked, I would have been able to produce a detailed itinerary of the next few years of my life and how it would contribute to my retirement plan. However, over the past year I have had to overhaul my entire outlook and plans. With new diagnoses and prognoses forming on a regular basis, I have had to give up the false security I felt with the “timeline” I had created of my life.

My doctors opinions can range widely between their projected life expectancies from too young to well into my 70s. In other words, I no longer have the solid five year plan. Not having a cookie cutter outlook on the progression of my disease can be extremely challenging at times. I have to catch myself when I drift into the land of “what if.”

My thoughts can quickly spiral: why waste time in college if I don’t live long enough to get a career with my degree? Should I postpone study abroad for a new treatment or risk a decrease in health because I may not have another chance? Should I bother getting married and having kids? What if I live to my late 70s but live too safely to achieve anything but a longer life?

As you can see, my thoughts quickly go into what therapists would refer to as “catastrophizing.” In short, catastrophizing is looking at your future and anticipating all of the things that could go wrong. So how do I avoid this without living in a bubble? Well, I exist in a gray area. On one side is me never wanting to do anything that could risk my health in any way, the other side is living like I have only a few days left in this world. Both extremes would result in an unfulfilling life, but the small area that is between the two? That is where I have learned to be comfortable.

I tend to think monthly instead of yearly now. I take risks that are worth it, I stay up until midnight with my best friends when we are laughing until we cry, then I sleep in and take it easy the next day. I go into negative spoons for a day at the park, but realize when a party isn’t worth it and do some self-care the same evening. I chose which treatments are worth the side effects and which ones will just decrease my quality of life. In other words, I have become very adept to balance. I live life without fear of death, but also do everything I can to help my body keep fighting. I am living my life in a way that I go to bed each night satisfied with the life I have led while still having goals to complete tomorrow. I am always ready and prepared, just in a different way than the healthy “five year plan” me was. I have become comfortable in the unknown.

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