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Being Real and Staying Positive With Chronic Illness

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Authenticity is really important to me. I’ve learned it is where true freedom lies. It’s when you have realized you do not have to maintain a certain image or pretend your life is better than it is.

It’s liberating to just be you.
The real you!
With your strengths and weaknesses.
Your failures and victories.
Your achievements and embarrassments.

When you have nothing to hide, you do not need to fear others finding out about who you really are. There is no need to “impress” anyone.

Pretending is just far too exhausting anyway.

“When people have integrity, their words and deeds match up. They are who they are, no matter where they are or who they’re with. People with integrity are not divided (that’s duplicity) or merely pretending (that’s hypocrisy). They are ‘whole’, and their lives are ‘put together’. People with integrity have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. Their lives are open books.” – John Maxwell

However, I sometimes wonder, how can we be “real’ without wearing our heart on our sleeves the whole time? Shouldn’t there be limits to our transparency? How honest should we be with people on a wider scale?

Is it better to sometimes stay silent?

Of course it sometimes is.

There are many occasions where it would not be helpful or wise to divulge every little detail about our thoughts, feelings and lives. Personally, professionally and socially.

However, I believe we can stay authentic and yet still hold back, but it’s an attitude of the heart. We can keep information to ourselves and those close to us, without hiding or pretending. It’s all linked to having a humble heart. It’s all about our motive for sharing information or keeping it hidden. Having wisdom to be aware of the context we are in, and judging how appropriate our words might be.

“When we are humble, we are down to earth. No energy is wasted on pretension. A humble man can be taken at face value.” – Erwin McManus

For me having a chronic illness means every day is a battle of sorts. It is the daily battle of positional (upright) unbearable headaches and other nasty neurological symptoms caused by a two year persistent spinal cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak we cannot find, yet.

Most days I see people at my daughter’s school, in the street, at the shops or at church. And they often ask that daily question, “How are you?”

And every day I struggle to answer.

How can I be “real” without launching into a long narrative about all my daily battles and challenges? How do I respond to the “how are you’s” without sounding moany and negative?

And to be honest, do people really want to know anyway? Or should I just respond with the classic “fine thank you,” because maybe I am actually “fine” in a “but still battling a chronic illness” way that day, and maybe I don’t have the energy for a long conversation anyway.

But my desire to be authentic means I don’t want to lie either, I don’t want to cover over the reality. That is no good to anyone, because then I will just end up staying quiet and pretending and no one will realize how unwell I still am. Which has happened before.

So I have had to find new responses, “well at least I can be here today.” Or these days I sometimes don’t say much and just smile at people with a “hmmm” or I will say, “I am not sure what to say — I am still not well, still waiting for new scans to try and find the leak, but I am very thankful I am not stuck in bed as much as I used to be.”

Perhaps I should give out little cards that say, “I feel unwell a lot of every day, but for now, I have had to accept it and live with it as best I can. I am better than I have been in the past. I have better moments and worse moments. I have days when I feel more positive and days when I feel I’m on an endurance test of living with chronic illness and pain. But I also have much to be thankful for. Each day I have to learn how to live here and do the best I can to love others and help those around me.”

I don’t want to moan.
I don’t want to only communicate the negatives.
I want to stay positive.
I need to stay thankful.

But I also do want to be “real.”

So for now I will try my best to be as authentic as I can. Without sounding like a broken record (because most people have heard all about it before). I will try not to hide so that people understand me and my condition better.

But how about instead of me telling you all about me again, you tell me about the real you, too. Your victories and your failures. Your celebrations and your struggles. I want to be reminded we are all human and all face our own unique daily battles. Yours might look very different to mine, but I’m sure there’s something you are finding hard, too.

If we keep telling each other we are fine, we might stay stuck with our own limited and potentially self-focused perspective. It could keep us from really knowing what battles other people around us might be fighting, too.

In my opinion that would be a shame, we could miss out on the beauty of true human connection. Connection that goes deeper because we can be honest about our “whole” selves. We can listen and learn more understanding from one another, too.

My hope is this authenticity can help us become better, kinder and more compassionate humans together.

Follow this journey at Becky Hill’s Blog

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Originally published: April 5, 2017
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