Accepting Myself as 'Uniquely Abled' After Developing a Chronic Illness

The moment I realized I was uniquely abled and not just someone with extra limitations, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I still don’t understand exactly why this was the case. I don’t define myself by these limitations. I realize there is so much more to me. But the moment it hit me that I was uniquely abled… I nearly crumbled into a million pieces.

During the course of 44 years I learned a lot about my skills, capabilities and limitations. I firmly knew who I was and exactly what I could bring to any task. But then along came myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), a multi-system disease that causes dysfunction of the neurological, immune, endocrine and energy metabolism systems. Now that my ME has fully set in, I have had to start the process of learning from scratch exactly who I am, what my current capabilities are and what my new limitations are. Perhaps most importantly, how will I react to facing the biggest challenge of my life?

New me, new life. Is it a gift I should cherish in some way? A unique opportunity to create a brand new me? Or is it a challenge that is just going to slow me down, limit my dreams and reduce my quality of life?

It is impossible not to admit that my condition has absolutely impacted my day-to-day life. I was raised to always be proud of my accomplishments, regardless of what they are, as long as I have done my best. I have since had to accept that in some areas of my life, my best has changed and is no longer possible. That is a pretty hard reality to accept, especially for my type A personality. I have always thought I would continue to enhance my skills and talents in life, not go backward with some of them.  The first day this really happened in a meaningful way was the day I realized I wasn’t a person with extra limitations; I was a uniquely abled person. While it may seem like a minor mindset change, it was an overwhelming realization.

So that is one side of the coin. However, there are two sides to every coin. Was there actually a gift hidden within the pain, the challenges and the limitations? Yes! Thank goodness the answer was yes! I asked myself, how many times have each one of us wished we could just start over? Or recreate ourselves? As a career and personal coach, I hear this all the time from my clients. I realized I have the unique opportunity to start from scratch in just about every aspect of my life and redefine who I want to be.  How many people get that opportunity?

Since then I’ve had the chance to discover new talents and interests, such as writing, tai chi and meditation. I’ve also found I’m quite good at raising public awareness of chronic illnesses, and in particular invisible illnesses, through my writing and my ability to leverage various social media avenues to reach millions of people around the globe.

Lastly, while much has changed, I still have kept one very important character trait: my belief in the power of positivity. However, now I leverage it to provide help, hope and support to my fellow chronic illness warriors. It has also helped me personally deal with my pain, reminding me to focus on each moment in time and not what my conditions mean for tomorrow, next year or the rest of my life. The cells in your body react to every emotion. Negativity can bring down your immune system. These facts reinforce my desire to not only focus on being positive about my own health, but also to bring hope and support to others. While we may have to realign or even change our dreams, we definitely can still have and live out our dreams.

I may be uniquely abled, and I accept that now, but it’s not a life sentence anymore. It’s an opportunity filled with many gifts. Millions of us fall under this this type of label. Uniquely abled, but by no means less than. We are more than capable and can bring a unique perspective to the workplace, life and interpersonal relationships. Value us, include us, and learn from us. We fight the battle of our lives daily; we are strong and resilient. We are succeeding against the odds in life; we bring that same spirit to our work, life and relationships.

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