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I Am Not a Chronic Illness Warrior

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I’m just a woman who lives day to day. As the John Denver song says, “Some days are diamonds, some days are stones.” In my version, the song says, “Some days are diamonds, some days are big rocks that squash me.”

I have 21 different chronic health conditions. Five of them could be fatal at any time. Does the fact that I manage the effects of each one every day make me a warrior? I don’t think so – I think it makes me a good manager, even though I could never put it on a resume.

When I think of the phrase, “I am a warrior,” I think of being a fighter. But these illnesses are part of me now. So in my mind, being a chronic illness warrior means I am fighting myself. Which I freely admit I did when I first started getting those 21 diagnoses. When I received my disability notification from Social Security, my single diagnosis was chronic, severe asthma. I then spent a lot of time being angry at my body for failing me at a time when I had just reached my career goal and fighting the knowledge that I was no longer going to be able to do the job that I loved.

In fact, I fought myself for the next five or six years as my body reacted to the massive doses of steroids that had kept me alive but made the the list of my health conditions get longer and longer. During that time, I would definitely call myself a warrior, battling the diagnoses by simultaneously ignoring the symptoms and then over-reacting to the crises that occurred. I fought the idea that I was going to have to take care of myself if I didn’t want to continue the trips to the emergency room and the days of hospitalizations. And what I found was that the more I fought the idea of being sick by being the warrior against my body, the sicker I got. Once I stepped back and acknowledged the fact that I was sick and that I had to take care of myself, I realized how much energy I had been putting into my battle with my body.

Discovering the book “How to Be Sick” by Toni Bernhard with its message of “although one’s body may be sick, one’s mind can be at peace,” was a life-changer for me. I’ve done my best to embrace that philosophy in my daily life.

So now I’m no longer a chronic illness warrior, I’m just someone who gets through each day — sometimes managing to dodge those big rocks, sometimes getting squashed by them.

Originally published: October 10, 2016
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