Why the 'Small' Accomplishments Matter When You Have a Chronic Illness
Living with chronic illness can make even the smallest things in life be a big accomplishment. When having a chronic illness, it can make everyday tasks something turn into something that is challenging, difficult, and even tiresome. Even self-care or getting up in the morning can be an accomplishment to someone with chronic illness, due to pain, medication side effects, and a multitude of reasons.
Being someone with Crohn’s disease and who is in cancer remission, both can take over my day. They can make it so that something as simple as cleaning my dorm, being able to eat solid food, and go to class are all accomplishments for me. When talking to friends with chronic illnesses, they all concurred that daily tasks such as putting dishes away, cleaning, taking care of a pet, or seemingly normal things can be an accomplishment. At one point I was not able to do these seemingly normal things, such as brushing my hair on my own or eating solid food. It is the small accomplishments that are big successes.
One of the biggest success I have had in a few years was for my first semester of college. While taking my biology class, I did not miss a single class. That is a huge accomplishment for me as I live with a chronic illness. I was the kid who missed weeks at the time of school throughout high school. However, to be able to make it to every single biology class, it was an amazing feeling of success.
When it comes to these small accomplishments as people with a chronic illness, we should be proud. We are achieving daily tasks on top of being sick. Throughout the last few months, I have gathered a variety of areas which can be seemingly daily tasks to someone without a chronic illness – but are daily successes in the life of someone with a chronic illness.
1. Being able to clean. Cleaning a house or an apartment can be tiring. However, for someone with a chronic illness, it can take even more energy out of a person. When cleaning, I feel success when I finish because it was something I was able to do that I’m not always able to do on my own. When being able to clean my whole dorm, I feel amazing also because it is one of those “normal” things I would like to be able to do all the time. However, having chronic illness makes it so that when I do have a bad pain week and I’m attached to an IV, it is almost impossible to do.
2. Eating. Something such as being able to eat solid food, or keep down food, can be a huge accomplishment across the spectrum of chronic illnesses. Many chronic illnesses such as gastrointestinal problems, Crohn’s, and gastroparesis make it so that a person can not enjoy food. Many of us have either an nasojejunal tube, nasogastric tube, or are on strict diets. Even after major surgeries, one of the first things doctors look for in recovery is being able to eat. For me, after having a cancerous brain tumor removed, that was a turning point. I was not able to eat for three days after my surgery, but then finally one morning I was able to eat and keep down food. Something such as eating, a primal instinct, can even be an accomplishment to someone with a chronic illness.
3. Self-Care. When it comes to my illness, I’m still taking medication on time and going to doctors appointments. I am still taking care of myself by taking care of the illness. Doing something as simple as putting on makeup or doing my own nails is not something I get to do often.
Often self-care turns into being focused on the illness, and not a person as a whole. Being someone in my freshman year of college who is chronically ill, I do take care of myself, but do not have much time or energy for pampering. One day during finals week I woke up feeling energized and without pain, which is rare. That same day I was able to put on makeup, which was an accomplishment because I do not always feel healthy enough to do so. Being able to do that made me feel on top of the world because I had been able to do something for myself. It made me feel internally good. So, even if it is just taking a shower or bath while living with chronic illness, that is a success and accomplishment because we are giving self-care to ourselves – and not just handling the illness.
4. Going out or having plans. Because of my illness, plans normally get canceled or are not made due to a my health being a rollercoaster. One minute I’ll feel fine, while the next I’ll feel awful.
I go to school in New York. Since I’m sick and in school, I do not get to go out much. However, I was able to go into the city once, which was a huge accomplishment for me. Usually I don’t feel well enough to go out, or even well enough to walk to the campus student center. Making plans and keeping them is a huge success, even if they change a little – especially when your illness can change what is supposed to be a great night into one at home and in pain.
5. Memory and remembering. A variety of neurological illnesses, chronic illnesses, and pain can cause someone’s memory to not work or to lapse. A simple task, such as shopping without looking at a list a thousand time, remembering why you got up or walked into a room, cook without a recipe, or recall someone’s name can be a success. Being able to do something as simple as making hot chocolate without forgetting how can create a sense of pride. Making hot chocolate is something that I am not always able to do, especially without looking at box directions or needing to ask someone a question. All of which might seem like daily tasks. These things are accomplishments. Maybe I have made this recipe before, or asked someone their name before, but being able to remember or recall it is an accomplishment.
For the new year, I am going to take more pride in these smaller accomplishments. These accomplishments are not small – they’re huge for someone who is sick. These daily accomplishments give me, and others with chronic illnesses, pride. Why? They depicts our good days when we are just feeling good enough to do something that is normal to a person who is not sick.
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