How Being Chronically Ill Helped Me Become Chronically Grateful

Chronic illness side effects are convoluted and often forever. They include losing sleep and friend – as well as coming to terms with limitations, bills and accepting that you always be in some level of pain. Thus creating emotional repercussions that aren’t listed on the injections and numerous pill bottles which live in my cabinet.

There are fears, tears and physical changes that make your past self a stranger. Who’s that woman in the photo with muscles from boxing and strong thighs from running? I miss her. A lot.

There are waves of rude bitterness, dark moments of self-loathing and isolation. The bitterness of what used to be, aching for normality others take for granted and pressure to keep up with who you want and used to be. None of these were listed in the many sheets of paper handed to me when I was also handed my diagnosis.

There’s depression and desperation. To do your part at home and at work like me, if you are lucky enough to work full-time. There’s a sheer terror that someday your body will run out and even that will be taken from you. This triggers a deep need for normality. To hide mortifying bodily and emotional side effects, allowing a frantic need to be well, to be enough.

Friends and family, with the best intentions, become an endless infomercial of late night TV cures, diets and exercise plans. Certain side effects are long-term and complex. I hate to break it to you, but your essential oils will not cure me. This disease lives within the soft tissue of bones and cartilage. Forever. The side effect of a garden I did not sow.

All this includes a complicated array of pills, injections, society and self-induced norms, and pain. I can tell you that you learn who you are at 3 a.m. when your body is too loud and your soul is so God damn tired. You see who your true friends are and just how much they and your family love you.

And since we’re being honest here, I want you to know this also creates humor. The ability to laugh, to sob myself to sleep and wake up grateful in the a.m. I am resilient ways never imagined, simply because I know all of these terrible, lonely things. Compassion for others has become a badge. I see you, the fake smile, beads of pain sweat on the upper lip and hear hundreds of, “I am well, and yourself?” replies. I don’t pity you, or feel sorry for you because I feel none of these things for myself. I see you fighting. The side effect of that is hoping you see me fighting too.

Other side effects are being joyful when my body belongs to me. Waking up and getting out bed almost instantly when the alarm yells. Pure gratitude for a hot shower, warming myself in the sun and doing for others when yesterday I couldn’t do my myself.

I don’t know what tomorrow brings. Yet I will seize beauty, kindness, and love in every second. Becoming chronically ill helped me shift into being chronically grateful. Chronically empathic. Forever rising. Tying my own shoes… that’s a good day my friends.

Smoke ’em if ya got ’em, raise ’em up and don’t let this bastard of a disease tear you down.

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