3 Ways Chronic Illness Encouraged Me to Change for the Better


More often than not, the positive side of chronic illness is not what we see. This is either because there isn’t a bright side or because we just hope you don’t see the illness at all. I recently entered graduate school this semester and I have noticed some of the ways that my conditions have encouraged me to change my ways for the better. Now, this does not mean I enjoy being in pain, disabled or whatever the fitting word is. But it is not something that is going away, so I might as well look at the bright side.

1. It makes me incredibly organized. 

OK, maybe not in my bedroom. Or my house in general. But when it comes to areas that are important to me, like school, I am the person who actually rewrites their notes after class. With lots of colors and pictures. I have three different accordion folders, and my computer folders go more than 15 levels deep.

On the days when I have no brain, I have to count on my over-organization to save me. It minimizes me losing information because I made a mistake. When my head is killing me, the worst feeling is being unable to find the bottle of Aleve among the other pills. While I have always been a detail-oriented person, my organizational skills allow me to compensate for some of the mistakes I make on the bad days and minimize pain, physically and mentally.

Having a chronic condition also forces you to be thoughtful about not just what the next day looks like, but what the next week looks like. That way, if you have a bad day, you don’t screw yourself over. There is no procrastination allowed when you don’t know what the next day holds.

2. It helps me be more patient (at least more so than I was).

While this is something I struggle with, and I like to think I have gotten better over the past couple of years. I pretty much have two modes: on and off. And when I am “on,” I sometimes expect everyone to work at the same pace I do, which is not only unrealistic but uncompassionate. The more I connect with people in the spoonies community, the more I am amazed by the breadth of invisible illnesses. I am getting better at remembering that it may my “on” day and someone else’s “off” day.

However, the situations where I am most impatient are with inanimate objects. When I am exhausted and hurting and my printer decides not to work, I have a tendency to pop my cork. I don’t like when objects take up any more of my limited energy supply. Similarly, I used to get frustrated by my own mistakes very easily, assuming I should just work harder. However, chronic conditions make you susceptible to all sorts of different errors, mistakes or inefficient processing. Both the printer and I are trying our best, and that best might be different depending on the day.

3. It forces me to be adaptable. 

I carry around an “emergency” kit that allows me to adapt to whatever my day could throw at me. If I need to stay a little longer than I thought, I have food I need. More walking than I expected? I have a heat pack in my office. I have to be flexible in how I plan my day or my week so I can adjust for any inconveniences that come up.

I have also learned some odd but effective strategies to get work done when its an off day. Sometimes I switch the color of pen every sentence to keep me engaged and force me to make sure I understand that sentence before I switch pens. Sometimes I have to work in front of the TV to stay awake. Its not the most efficient way to work, but it better than nothing. And sometimes you just have to get through. You might do one assignment in an hour one week, but it might take you several the next week. Allowing your brain (and your body) to work at its own pace is undervalued.

I recognize that for many, chronic conditions do not offer any positives. But I would urge you to consider the positive changes that result from your health changes. Maybe you have cut off toxic relationships that were too much work. Maybe you have been a new connection that you never would have been before. Maybe you inspired or advised another person on how to handle the challenges of your situation. While it won’t fix the underlying condition, it can’t hurt and might even help.

Getty Image by JHRS


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