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Why I'm Focusing on the Bright Side of Chronic Illness

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Let’s face it: no one enjoys getting a diagnosis. In an instant, there are overwhelming feelings of anger, grief, sadness, frustration and fear. There may be tears, and there may be mourning. Whether you or a family member has been diagnosed with some sort of chronic illness, injury or disease, it can seem very difficult, if not impossible, to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Certainly not that day. Probably not even that month. Maybe not even that year.

The thoughts flash quickly through your mind: “But I can’t…”, “But I won’t ever be able to…”, “But now I’ll never have a ‘normal’ life.”

These are all thoughts I have had multiple times throughout the last four years of living with Celiac disease and now Hashimoto’s. I wish I could say these thoughts have ceased altogether for me. But they haven’t. I still deal with them often. And you know what? That’s OK.

The reason I can say that with confidence is that I know if I am going to live with chronic illness for the rest of my life, I have to wake up every morning and choose not to dwell on all the negative aspects of having chronic illness. I have to choose to see the bright side of having these diagnoses. I have to choose to be thankful. I have to choose joy.

Now, in no way is that a cakewalk. It has to be a conscious choice every single day to fight for joy in a time of struggle. Every day, I have to take my thoughts captive. Disease does not define me. It is not who I am. It is not my identity.

When I am struggling and my body is battling against me, the easy way out is to launch into self-destruction and mourning. But seriously, why would I want to waste my life wallowing in my own self-pity and self-destructive thoughts? This is not to say I have this all figured out, and it’s definitely not to say that if you struggle with these things, you are “wrong” or “less than.” There absolutely are days when I don’t choose joy – many, in fact. But how beautiful it is to look back on those dark times, those valleys, and see so much growth come about because of my struggles!

Over the last four years living with autoimmune disease, I have had ample opportunities to reflect on all of the positive things that have come about since my first diagnosis. In the fight for joy in chronic illness, my eyes have really been opened to all of the beautiful and positive things I have to be thankful for:

Among countless other things, I have come to know God as a good Father and a loving Creator. My relationship with my family has strengthened tremendously. I have learned how to take charge of my health. I have learned how beautiful it is to have people who care about your health and your heart. I have found out what it means to rest my body and my soul.

It is in my darkest days of dealing with chronic illness that the light has been the brightest. It may seem small, even negligible, but there is a beautiful bright side to living with chronic illness. I hope you find it today.

I want to encourage you with this: if you, your spouse, your parent or your child is struggling with chronic illness, take some time to reflect on all of the good that has come about since the diagnosis. I hope you will wake up tomorrow and the next day and make a choice. Choose to see the bright side. Choose to be thankful. Choose joy.

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Originally published: December 17, 2016
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