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When I Realized Life With Chronic Illness Can Be Hard and Good at the Same Time

Recently, one of my friends was complaining about our job. And I responded, yes, it’s hard, but I love it. And she was shocked. We often discuss challenges and frustrations about our job, and I feel like I’m usually overwhelmed by the amount of work that I still need to do. I realized that even though I also love it, I don’t always express that to her. Possibly because I know that she hates it and is considering quitting. Or because I assumed she saw the good parts too.

It reminded me of a quote, “It can be hard, and it can be good.” When I worked as a farmer, this was my boss’s motto. The summer is always the busiest season, and it means long, exhausting work days. But it’s also the best part of the year: everything is alive and there are so many different types of fresh produce. Customers get excited about local produce, and suddenly the farmer’s market is so busy. It’s easy in those moments to get caught up in the hard: the being exhausted, stressed, or overwhelmed. But it’s also important to see the good, and to realize that they can exist together.

As I’ve been thinking about this, I’ve realized how much it applies to my physical health. I’ve been dealing with worsening symptoms of my chronic illness, and it hasn’t been fun. I realized I went to my doctor’s office more often in the past two weeks than I went to work. But when I’m struggling with my health, it’s so easy to label days, weeks, or even years as “I was sick.” And yes, sometimes being sick is all-consuming. But sometimes other things happen. Especially living with a chronic illness, you realize that life keeps going even when you’re sick.

Looking back on the semester, I’m tempted to only think about the fact that “I was sick.” I spent so much time in bed, dealing with doctors’ appointments, and generally just frustrated by how many things my health was preventing me from doing. But I’m trying to remember that even when it’s hard, it can also be good.

A few days ago I was on campus all day (a rare thing for me anyway, and never happens when I’m sick), because I had meetings and classes. During that day, and looking back at that day, it was easy to get in my head about how stressful that was for me. How I had to wake up early because I wasn’t sure I could eat breakfast. How I sat at lunch with my friends and could barely eat because the idea of food made me so nauseous. How I ended up going to take a nap in my car after lunch because I realized I was too tired to focus on anything, and I woke up to texts from my friends who had worked together to finish a homework assignment I still needed to do.

But it wasn’t all hard. There were so many good moments also — walking with my friends back from class, laughing about our professor and how all his examples involved either cows or rabbits. The fact that I had meetings in person, which I hadn’t had in the two years since I started this job. The flowers blooming on the trees across campus because it’s finally spring. And the fact that I knew myself well enough to take a nap so that I could be awake for my last class of the day. Knowing that even though I felt terrible for most of it, I still went to classes and meetings, I still learned and participated.

I’m not saying we need to be positive all the time. There were absolutely days, even weeks, when I was too sick to get out of bed, and I can’t list a single positive thing about that. Which I think is 100% OK. And there were days when I felt physically fine, yet I wouldn’t describe them as “good days.” But I do believe that it’s easy to be busy or overwhelmed or not feel great, and to believe that’s the only thing going on. I think it can be powerful to realize that yes, it is hard, but it can also be good.

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