How the Chronic Illness Community Helped Me Achieve a Major Milestone

As tears come to my eyes on the flight home from Washington D.C., I realize how grateful I am that I have made it this far in a PhD program. Not just as a poor girl from a rural Midwestern area who was the first generation to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree, or a single mother of three young ones, or a full-time college lecturer, but also as a sick girl who grew up to be a more often sick adult with a primary immunodeficiency.


The past term of graduate school I was hospitalized for more than four days, twice. In only 10 weeks. During my PhD coursework I have had numerous ER visits, more than six hospitalizations, four surgeries and countless changes in medications. I am still on time for my program, and have not repeated a single course, and that is not without fighting tooth and nail to stay on top of things when my advisor was pushing for an incomplete. This is not martyrdom or bragging – this is merely the constant struggle and fierceness that a lifetime of chronic illness provides. We are warriors. It is what we say, but more importantly it is the truth in our hearts.

Because even with our amazing support systems, most often no one is there when we struggle to fight through some form of brain fog from sickness or meds to finish that paper, or work, or take care of our little ones. No one sees the tears we finally shed when things overflow into an overwhelming flood, usually after a giant heap of things we have overcome easily. No one understands what it is like to truly never be without illness, or pain, or difficulty breathing, but to smile and celebrate anyway when we accomplish something great.

Because even as I sit here with fairly intense GI pain, slight difficulty breathing due to severe asthma and joint pain on the plane ride home from getting my Dissertation Research Plan approved at the end of completing all of my coursework, all I can think about is, I did it. I did something hard, and I struggled with it so much, but it was completely worth it.

celebrating with a drink on the plane

And most often “we,” meaning those of us in the chronic illness or Mighty community, sort of look down and smile softly like things aren’t a big deal when we accomplish something against the odds. Well, not today. Not now, when things are so sad in the world, so difficult, and we have so many incredibly hard days. No, today I am sharing good news with everyone. And so should you. Today, “we” did this. This community saw me through this last year, my hardest health year in 35 years, and “we” just went through my milestone together, because we are awesome.

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