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How I’ve Learned to Factor Chronic Illness Into My Future

For the past five years, I’ve been lying to myself. For five years, I have desperately clung to the lie that someday, I’ll be healthy again, that I’ll go back to the same person I was before I got sick. I have so desperately needed to believe that it was possible to get back to the way things were. And so I’ve lied, to myself and everyone around me. I have feigned certainty that my condition was temporary. I’ve talked up new treatment plans with optimism to anyone who asked. But truthfully it wasn’t them I needed to convince: it was myself. And in doing so I created a purgatory of my own making. Caught between a rock and a hard place, I couldn’t move forward with the reality of my condition: that it is chronic.

For five years, I haven’t let myself grieve the pieces of myself I’ve lost to illness. Grief has had no place in my survival. I’ve pushed it down, for the sake of continuing to tread water. If I let it, my grief could drown me. It could swallow the last of me altogether. So I’ve lied. I have minimized my pain and my decline. I have continuously sugar coated the bitter pill. I’ve mastered the art of hiding pain behind a smile. My facade has become meticulous, my body armor against the truth. Because it’s been easier to shroud my reality in euphemism than to admit that things aren’t getting better. I’ve made it impossible to come to terms with the permanence of my illness.

Before I got sick, I was a blissfully healthy college student. I had dreams of what my life would look like. I trusted in the universe and fate. I believed things would just work out in the way that all cosmic things do. And without warning, the entire axis of my universe tilted. I think I’ve been afraid to be honest about my chronic illness because it meant letting go of the person I used to be. It felt like I was giving up on everything I’d dreamed my life would look like. But the reality is, most of those dreams can’t be mine anymore. And I can’t begin to imagine any sort of future when I’m clinging to my past.

Maybe I won’t scale Machu Picchu or see the northern lights, but I hope to still explore the world around me. I may not have the career I once thought I would, but I can still do work that matters. I can still have value even when it can’t be quantitated in accolades. I still dream that one day this body will be strong enough to carry a pregnancy or two. I’m not yet ready to let go of that one.
So for the sake of the woman I have become, I have to let go of the one I once dreamed I’d be. I finally am ready to factor my chronic illness into my future. And it only took me five years.
Photo by Rodolfo Sanches Carvalho via Unsplash.