What Happened After I Finally Embraced My Chronic Life

I will be 54 years old in February, and I have been sick, literally, from the moment I was born. As an infant I had a milk allergy that went undiagnosed for months while I screamed endlessly (no doubt in excruciating pain). At 18 months old I contracted shingles. Babies don’t get shingles. But I did. As a preschooler I was treated for mental illness when I started drawing disturbing pictures, but it would be decades before I would finally be (mis)diagnosed with major depressive disorder.

After suffering through a wide variety of childhood illnesses, always experiencing the most severe and unlikely symptoms along with rare and unusual side effects, a car accident at 16 precipitated the onset of chronic migraines. I have vivid memories of making the two-hour drive to the state capital, because that was where the only CAT scan machine in the state was at the time. It would be the first of many such scans I would undergo in my life. My 20s were marked by continued migraines, the onset of an anxiety disorder, struggling with the hypersexuality of (undiagnosed) bipolar disorder – a battle which would rage throughout the next two decades of my life – and the beginnings of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. And that’s all before I hit 30!

So here I am at almost 54. Some of my current diagnoses include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, chronic migraine and type 2 diabetes. I’m also in the midst of undergoing testing for suspected kidney cancer. Throughout my life, I have spoken of my “battles” with these illnesses. I have said, “I am battling a migraine. I am battling a manic episode. I am battling anxiety.” But you know what? I’m not battling anymore. I’m not trying to be a person I never really was – a healthy, energetic person who can make definite plans with friends and will never cancel because she is having a migraine… or a manic episode… or an anxiety attack. That’s not who I am. I am a person who lives with multiple chronic illnesses. Sometimes I will need to cancel plans. Sometimes I need to find a quiet place to lie down. Sometimes I need a break from the noise and the crowds. I am finally embracing that aspect of myself, so I can use my years of experience to help and support others.

You see, all that battling can really wear you out. I find I’m experiencing a quiet peace and calm in embracing and accepting myself where I am. I have – get this – more energy! I’m able to handle my current health crisis (the kidney cancer thing) more calmly and effectively. Yes, I am kind of freaking out, because cancer is, after all, a pretty scary thing to contemplate. But my overall quality of life has improved now that I’m not expending all my energy on battles I can’t win.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t fight to have the absolute best quality of life we can have while living with these illnesses. What I am saying is this: Be nice to yourself. Practice self-care. Say no when you need to, without feeling like you need to make excuses. Don’t just grudgingly accept your limitations. Embrace them!

Follow this journey on The Chronic Mama.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Getty Image by Marina Zaam

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Chronic Illness

The First Duty of Love is to Listen Paul Tillich Joy Hanford

The Next Time Someone Goes Out on a Vulnerable Limb About Their Health

I am going to step out on a vulnerable limb and speak my truth: I have been in bed, in pain, suffering for two days. Here is my truth that is easy for you to hear because it doesn’t push buttons or point fingers: I have been in bed, in pain, suffering for two days. [...]
lady gaga, khalid and carrie fisher

The 2018 Grammy Nominees Include 11 People With Illnesses and Disabilities

At the Grammy Awards on Sunday, January 28, the group of musicians vying for the industry’s top honors will include several who have opened up about living with illnesses and disabilities. Some have turned their struggles into inspiration for their music, while others have used their celebrity power to connect with others dealing with the [...]
woman standing on the beach and wrapped in a blue knit blanket

Why Being in Denial About the Effects of Chronic Illness Can Be Harmful

I’ve done my share of denying that I’m chronically ill. It’s tempting to pretend that I’m as healthy as can be, but when I ignore my limitations by staying out too long or by insisting on engaging in activities that are beyond my energetic abilities, invariably, I land in bed for days. And so, I’m [...]

10 Winter Accessories That Can Keep You Warm While Also Soothing Pain

For many with chronic pain conditions, heat is an important tool for managing symptoms and soothing aches and pains. But for those who have difficulty regulating their body temperature, struggle with poor circulation or find that cold weather exacerbates their pain, having a constant heat source becomes essential during the winter. While there are many portable heating products available [...]