How Hashimoto’s Made Me Stronger
Here’s a novel thought: being chronically ill is making me stronger in ways that I was not expecting.
I remember very clearly who I was before I was diagnosed. I ran long distances regularly and I went to the gym often. I probably ate decently but it’s hard to say. I drank beer and had late nights more often than I’d really like to admit. I pushed myself hard at work, often staying until 7:00 or so and then bringing work home with me, especially when I was pursuing my master’s degree.
I was hard on myself. I’d run a half-marathon in two hours and 15 minutes, and I’d be frustrated that I didn’t hit two hours and five minutes. I’ve always tried to be understanding of emotional concerns, but I thought anti-depressants should be a help for hard times, not something to rely on long-term. I had a ton of “friends” and not all of them were people I actually liked. I just really enjoyed being social. My identity rested in my accomplishments, the races I won or what I accomplished at work or how many people came to the party I hosted.
Hashimoto’s has changed every single part of that. Every part. That woman I just described doesn’t exist anymore.
Here’s how I’m stronger – I know what’s important.
Those “friends” I don’t really like, I kind of faded away from. They know I was diagnosed with something and they didn’t bother to understand, so we just stopped communication altogether. Now I spend my social energy on people who really, genuinely matter to me and who are positive influences on me. I can count my friends, and they’re great friends. I’m more satisfied than I’ve ever been with my social life. I’m smart enough now to know when I need to rest and these friends are not upset when I tell them I can’t make an event or a coffee date. Instead, they offer to bring me coffee with the unspoken understanding I haven’t showered and I’m in pajamas.
I know that when I pushed myself at work previously, I actually wasn’t managing my time very well and I just felt important having to work late. Now I know how to manage my time because my personal time really is valuable to me. I don’t want to stay at work all night. It’s important for my emotional well being to have balance, and my physical self can’t tolerate 12 hour days.
In general I know what’s really important and where my energy and headspace needs to be. Because of the physical pain stress causes, and having to be mindful of ever-present anxiety, I know what’s worth getting upset about and what’s not important at all. This attitude has served me well professionally, as evidenced by my recent double promotion. That’s right, I have two jobs and I was promoted in both of them, despite my physical limitations. I’m open with my management about what I can and can’t do, and I was still selected for promotion. My performance warrants the promotion, and I am blessed to have managers who don’t hold my illnesses against me.
Above all, I am more compassionate and loving. Since I know that you can’t tell that I am having a hard time, I am acutely aware that those around me have their own problems that I can’t see. I am slow to respond to anger, and I am very quick to forgive any perceived slight. It has been so very helpful for me to be intentional about where my energy goes.
I am not physically stronger. In fact, I can’t run at all any more, much less run 13 miles competitively. But my headspace is so much stronger. I’m much better at recognizing the value of a day well spent laughing, even if my hair is dirty. I’m better at dedicating my efforts to things that matter professionally. I’m a much better friend. Although it’s difficult, I take better care of myself now than I did before, even when I was a gym rat. I’m sick a lot, but I’m much more fulfilled than I was before my diagnosis.
I am stronger now.
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