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I Am Not 'Less Than' After Being Diagnosed With a Chronic Illness

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I stumbled across a quote recently that was spectacularly encouraging to me as a person living with chronic illness. Perhaps you’ve read it before. I’ve discovered, much to my dismay, that it is popularly used on LinkedIn profiles and by self-help authors to challenge readers to “stop being complacent” and “be all they can be.” But please, don’t let that cheapen its meaning. For those of us living with chronic illness, who feel we have lost so much of ourselves to our illness, it is empowering to see ourselves not as a lesser version of ourselves, but rather as the next version in a chain of many different versions of ourselves, each developed specifically to tackle the challenges at hand. And an added bonus is that you can imagine your favorite incarnation of Leonardo DiCaprio saying it to you – I am going to go with “Inception” Leo.

“Every next level of your life will demand a different you.”  —  Leonardo Dicaprio

The power in this quote requires a paradigm shift. If popular culture is any reflection of how we view ourselves, we each have one inner self that we are either striving to find, grow into, or be true to. If that’s the case, it’s easy for those of us with chronic illness to see ourselves as less than, because for many of us, the person chronic illness demands us to be is nothing like our true selves. If I was to define my true self, it would be a woman who is determined, ambitious, productive, and busy. Chronic illness has taken all but one of those from me. I am still quite determined, often stubbornly so, but chronic illness has certainly lessened my productivity, lightened my schedule, and taught me that my future is not as clear cut as it used to be. Therefore, if I adhere to the true self paradigm, chronic illness has made me but a shadow of myself, and that is horribly depressing.

Perhaps now you can see why this quote stopped me in my tracks and immediately found a new home on my chalkboard of inspirational quotes. This quote shifts the paradigm, I believe we are not just one true self, but a series of selves each unique to whatever phase of life we are in.

My chronic illness self is not the same over-achieving self I was as a young professional or student, and that’s OK.

Being chronically ill requires a different version of myself, one that is infinitely more patient, unruffled, and optimistic than previous versions.

While I am no longer the go-getter with the unending to-do list, I am the person who can endure countless doctor visits, tests, and procedures with grace and positivity.

I am the person who can sit in uncertainty without panic, despite not knowing how my body will react each day, despite not knowing when or if proper diagnoses and treatments will come, or if I will ever see lasting improvement.

I am the person who can remain hopeful, who can continue to smile and laugh, and most importantly who does not give up, despite all of it.

I am not a lesser version. I am different version.

And when I really stop to think about it, I am a pretty awesome version at that.

What has inspired you to think differently about yourself and your life with chronic illness?

Originally published: January 12, 2020
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