When Your Illness Changes Your Dreams


Lately, it’s felt like the news, both online and on TV, is all about being your best self – no matter what type of adversity you’re facing. I’ve read about people finishing marathons while having stage four cancer. Loosing 100 pounds just by walking. Curing their own diseases by changing their diet. We live in a world that believes you truly can do anything you want, you just have to want it enough to take action on it. Isn’t this a beautiful concept? It’s extraordinary when people are able to go out and achieve their dreams. But many people also infuse this with the notion that giving up on these dreams is indicative of a lack of will power, inner strength, determination, or faith.

I think it’s OK to consider some opportunities no longer available, and that it’s OK to grieve over this loss. I think I would have made a great teacher, but I have never been quite so exhausted as when I did my teaching internship. Because of the stress and energy it took to be a new teacher, I had flare-up upon flare-up and didn’t talk to anyone about it, because what could they do? This was teaching. And as my masters program continually reminded us, it could take up to five years for us to get a handle on things, to get a routine so that we weren’t constantly prepping lesson plans. Not long after my internship ended I started having symptoms of gastroparesis, and I knew then that this just wasn’t an option anymore.

I need a job that ends once I leave the building. One that requires very rare overtime, that comes with excellent health insurance. I need one that has moderate to low levels of stress. Where if a wave of nausea or pain comes over me, I can step into a quiet room and just take a few minutes to regroup (which is impossible if you have a classroom full of kids, no matter what age they are).

The world tells me that maybe I just don’t want to change, that I don’t have the willpower to achieve great results, or that I’m scared to reach for my dreams. But I think that it’s OK for your dreams to change and shift based on new information. I think it’s also OK to grieve what could have been, and I do. But I’m also thankful for and happy with my life today, and I’ve reached some of my new dreams. I’ve worked hard and have landed a job that I love. When I leave at five, my work doesn’t follow me home during the evenings or weekends (and when it does, it is a rare thing). I have access to excellent corporate health insurance, 401k matching, and lots of paid time off. I have a positive and friendly boss who encourages me to participate in a myriad of interesting learning opportunities. I have a close and loving family. I have a best friend who gets what it’s like to live with chronic illness. Every few years I take a great vacation.

My life is different than I thought it would be, but that doesn’t make it smaller, or less important, or less worthy. This life is mine, and while I sometimes think about what might have been, I consider what I have to be worth celebrating. I’ve created new dreams to fit my new reality.

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Getty image by oatawa

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