What My Illness Taught Me About the Value of Time


“So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.” – Seneca

Most of our lives are built upon a certain structure, a plan we want to follow. The moment we are born, we are given an unknown amount of such a precious treasure: time. And we are determined to use it well, so we start to set up goals. We want to be successful at school and at work, so we have stability in our lives. We seek love and affection, we want to find a place we belong to. And we want to travel the world and see all the beautiful places this planet has to offer.

But most of the time we are unaware of the limitations we were given. Of course, we know about our mortality, but we usually do not let it define our daily actions. We may spend countless days doing nothing, subconsciously feeling guilty for wasting time. But we are young, we have so much time left, don’t we?

When I got diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome last year, a condition that affects my blood vessels and inner organs (amongst other things) and that can therefore be fatal at any time, I saw myself confronted with this question.

How much time do I have left?

I don’t know. Doctors don’t know. No one knows.

Naturally, no one, neither healthy nor sick, knows how much time they have left on this earth. But when death is a possible side effect of your illness, time is given a different value.

However, I do not want to force a structure on my life that is supposed to ensure a life in which not a single second is wasted. Because from the start, this is doomed to be failure and every attempt would result in utter disappointment and frustration.

I learned that the best thing to do is to continue the life I have always lived. I read, go to school and meet my friends, and naturally, this might sound trivial and unimportant. However, it is what makes me happy and it is what I define as a good life. Because we need to understand that life is not about the big things, life is about what we find in the small things. It is about happiness, disappointment, excitement, love and everything that makes us human. These things can be found in everyone’s environment, at any given time. We just must open our eyes, so we can start looking for these treasures.

Life is a constant treasure hunt but only very few are able to look for its true preciousness. Therefore, no one must live a short life; it is our choice how long our life shall be considered. No matter how much time we have, we can use this time to shape a good and fulfilled life if we only stop making it forcefully “precious.” Of course, death is a constant companion, but we should not fear it. Because fearing death can make you unable to experience all the great things; fearing death can cause you to waste time.

Personally, learning about my disease and its consequences did not make me change my daily actions and my way of living. But it did make me live more aware of life’s preciousness and the high value of happiness.

Therefore, I do not want to be pitied for my illness – it is not a death sentence. I will not complain about the life I was given, and neither will I grieve over my potential fate. It’s OK to grieve about death and loss, but we shouldn’t grieve life and what it has to offer.

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