When You Can’t Help but Compare Yourself to Healthy Bodies, Remember This

This is a message for those who face illness head on because they have no other choice. 

On the days where you can’t help but compare yourself to healthy bodies and wonder why your life is so starkly different.

In the depths of the night when you can’t help but curse your less-than-perfect health, and damn it for all it has done – the setbacks, the clear paths to dreams now muddled and foggy, that must eventually succumb to reality.

For the times you feel weak. I mean physically, and mentally weak.

For the times you see your peers partaking in all the things you may not be able to do. You know — the grand trips abroad, the drop-everything-and-travel-the-country-in-an-RV without health insurance, the freedom to move wherever on your own terms, and the brute strength to literally climb mountains, hike canyons, and jump off cliffs with the comfort of knowing your body will recover.

For the times it feels like the cards are stacked against you.

For the times when you look in the mirror and can’t recognize the reflection.

For the times when there’s no explanation for what you’re going through, because your condition took the reins.

Here’s what I need you to remember.

Those weekly blood draws? They’re your Couch to 5k.

The six doctor appointments you schedule every month, and the painstaking transparency and defensiveness you must sometimes use with strangers who don’t know you, just so you can arrive on time? That’s your 26-mile marathon. Put the sticker on your car.

The specialists you must take days off work and travel miles upon miles to see? That journey is your trip to crystal clear sandy beaches, or your lakeside house in the fall, and you always make the best of it, don’t you? Take some photos for memory’s sake. 

The disability benefits you struggled to get, or are still anxiously awaiting because you can no longer work? Well, that’s your cross-country run, and you’re hoping to cross the finish line.

The infusions and ports and holes in your body to get the medications you need for survival? That’s the house you built with your own bare hands.

The days and sometimes weeks of pain, migraines, and side effects you experience after treatments? That’s your daily two-hour workout at the gym – no pain, no gain, right?

The multiple surgeries – the prep, the anxiety, the aftermath? That’s your hike across the Pacific Coast Trail.

The very realness of not knowing what tomorrow holds because of your health? That’s your Everest.

What our bodies put us through and what we put our bodies through just so we can see tomorrow takes all the courage and strength in the world. And we’ve got to do it, day after day, because we too, want to enjoy life to the fullest when we can, when our bodies allow. We look for the good, and we hope for the best.

And we do it, sometimes in silence. Our struggles are sometimes invisible. You might not see us at the top of Kilimanjaro, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know what it feels like to have made that treacherous climb – with the cold wind pressed against our faces, and slippery slopes beneath our feet. And it doesn’t mean we don’t know what it feels like to stand triumphantly at the top, watching the great orange sun rise, its rays piercing the clouds and sky, revealing light where there once was shadow.

So please, on the toughest of days, in the darkest of times, recognize your journey – all of it. Recognize the hurdles and the times where a straight, smooth path was laid for you. We don’t need pity as people facing illness, but we definitely deserve recognition.

I see you at the bottom of the insurmountable mountain trying to get your footing, and I’m cheering with you at the top when there is a cool, calm breeze, and peace and quiet.

I see the rivers forged and bridges crossed, even if no breathtaking photographs exist to depict it. Our journeys are evidenced in the times we choose to smile through heartache and uncertainty, and the times we smile because despite the unknown, we made it through another day.

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