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The Unexpected ‘Byproduct’ of My Chronic Illness Recovery


The doctor’s report is both remarkable and unremarkable. It reads as follows:

She reports feeling “very well” since her last office visit.
She is on no medications.
She has no pain.
Her daily energy level is 9 out of 10.
Her speech is clear and fluent. Her thinking is linear.

Assessment: Ms. Sales is in good health and is doing well.

It’s the kind of assessment I would have given an organ for just a couple of years ago, and that’s what it took to get here. Three years of flooding my body with medicine that took turns ravaging my bones and liver before finally settling into my joints. Three years of starving my body, deceptively bloated from immunosuppressants, with diets that offered nothing except some semblance of control. That’s 1,095 days and 26,280 consecutive hours of all-encompassing, nerve-shattering, debilitating fear.

And all it took was one surgery and a couple months of healing for the fight to be over. No more medicine. The freedom to feed my body. The feeling that whatever had been holding me down had finally let up.

It shocked me how quickly my body healed itself once the source of its pain was gone. The bruises disappeared. The scars faded. My collarbone settled back in and my muscles reemerged.

I can rest now, and I’ve found real joy in stillness.

But my mind is still on overdrive from those 1,095 days. It speeds up whenever I have to talk about hospitals or healthcare, when I have routine doctor visits or when I notice someone struggling to get around the city, alone.

Without my health to agonize over, my mind wanders. It turns on when I think too long on my career, when I watch too much of the news or spend too much time on devices that allow us to keep out-of-date flirtations in orbit and distort our self-image.

This isn’t where the “how-to” list starts. I have no prescriptions for calming your nervous (or ultra-nervous) system. I just needed to put what I’m realizing in writing: Chronic anxiety is a byproduct of chronic illness.

But anxiety won’t be another line for another year on my doctor’s chart. Allow me instead to take stock, day by day:

She is strong.
She trusts her body.
She is joyful.
She is safe.
She knows people are generally good.

Assessment: Ms. Sales is in good health and is doing well. She is coming around to that fact.

Photo by Timothy Paul Smith on Unsplash