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Why People With Chronic Illness Should Focus on What Is, Not 'What If...?'

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What if?

What if my pain is worse tomorrow? What if I can’t sleep? What if I have a reaction to my new medication?

What if my condition worsens?

What if my friends won’t understand why I can’t go out to dinner or talk on the phone for long?

What if I have a fall? What if I need more surgery?

What if this, what if that?

What if?

We all ask “what if?” during the course of our lives. It’s a normal thing to do, but it can be exhausting to head down that path.


The healthy and chronically ill alike experience times of worry, concern and overwhelming moments of “what if?”

Living with a chronic illness though does tend to make the “what ifs” seem a little louder and worrisome at times.

We are already living with the “what ifs” that we might have worried about as healthy people. That worry of “what if” I become ill or disabled?

That “what if” has happened. That is now our “what is.”

Living with a chronic disease can be like living your worst nightmare, if you let it.

One thing I have learned though over the years of living with chronic illness and rare disease is you can’t live with the “what ifs.” They are debilitating and soul-destroying and can affect your mindset so much that you may never experience the joys that can be found when you cease asking “what if” and start focusing on “what is.”

Look around you. Acknowledge your current challenges. That’s important. Being in denial only causes long-term problems. But don’t forget to count your blessings. Name them. Write them down.

Life may not be perfect, but it’s still your life. Your life to be lived to the fullest within the bounds of your physical limitations.

While I have many real daily challenges associated with living with a rare disease, let’s for a moment take a look at the positive side of “what is” for the the person with chronic illness.

What is…

– You overcome pain and fatigue every day, even if you feel like you don’t.

– You live with it, you manage it, you have amazing strength.

– You have incredible empathy for others who experience hardship.

– You have determination and courage.

– You love life, you cling to it and you find ways daily to enjoy it as best you can…even if that means resting on the couch enjoying your favorite TV show.

– You enjoy the simple things in life and you cherish them. Things like flowers blooming, that others may never notice. You notice the intricate colors and the way the bloom opens and closes.

– You never take anything for granted.

– You know life can be uncertain, but you know change can bring new opportunities.

– You know tough times happen, but you know the intensity of those times does pass and joy returns.

If you are experiencing a season of asking “what if?” and worrying about the future, acknowledge your concerns but then take a break from that question and focus on “what is.”

“What is” allows you to break free from unnecessary despair. It allows you to breathe more deeply and evenly. It allows you to think more clearly, conserve your energy and focus on the real challenges you might be facing – not ones that may never happen.

Before you know it, you are moving forward again and leaving the “what ifs” behind you.

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Thinkstock photo via Ola_Tarakanova.

Originally published: June 9, 2017
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