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Life as a Chronically Ill 20-Something Doesn't Have to Suck

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Being in your 20s is hard — you are trying to discover who you are, explore your life’s purpose, make the most out of being young and free, and it is a time to establish yourself as a member of society. However, being a chronically ill person in his or her 20s is even harder.

The majority of 20-something year olds are finding their place in the professional world. As I graduated from college, I often got the god-forbidden question of “what’s next?” I would smile and reply, “I’m not sure!” What I really wanted to tell them was that I am not able to work, so I am focusing on my health and trying to find effective treatments. Telling someone that answer sounds easy enough, but living in a society that puts so much pressure on professional success, I could not to admit to them (and myself) that there was no job on the horizon.

Ultimately, I decided that I was going to complete my master’s online, and retrospectively, I think that decision was made to avoid feeling like I was doing nothing. Now, when someone asked what the future held, I could tell them that I was completing my master’s. Eventually, I finished my master’s degree and I was back struggling to tell people that my job is being a patient. It is difficult not being able to fulfill my professional dreams. I dread every time someone asks me, “What do you do for work?” because who really wants to admit that they are too ill to work? I am missing out on creating those workplace relationships, building my resume, and learning new things about a profession. But a career isn’t the only thing I miss out on.

A huge part of being in your 20s is your social life. Going to bars, staying up into the early morning, getting drunk, dancing at concerts, traveling, exploring new things are all a part of one’s social life in their 20s. Before I got sick, and in the early stages of my illness, I was extremely social. As time went on and I became sicker and sicker, my social life rapidly declined.

A photo of the writer, smiling.

As a Colorado native, the outdoors has been a huge part of my life. I’d ski every weekend in the winter and some weekdays after school. In Colorado, and many places for that matter, outdoor activities are a commonality. People get together for a hike or a bike excursion and form relationships and experiences in the outdoors. I have not been able to ski for two years; my body refuses to cooperate with any physical activity. People with chronic illnesses miss out on these experiences that people value so much. For many of us, we know that we cannot handle a night out at the bar or dancing at a concert. These common experiences for healthy people are a rarity for those with chronic illnesses.

As time passes and you become more accepting of your illness, you begin to create new hobbies to make yourself fulfilled. So instead of a night out, you plan a movie night. Instead of a ski trip, you invite your friends over for game night. It can feel like you are always the “party pooper” or the “buzz kill” of your friends. I cannot do what normal 23 year olds do and the phrase “FOMO” (fear of missing out) has never been so accurate.

Being a chronically ill 20-something-year-old does not have to suck. For people whose lives were affected later in life from chronic illnesses, you realize that you have to adjust and adapt to your illnesses. My weekends are not filled with skiing anymore, but there are still thing I love to do. Instead of being in the mountains, I paint the mountains. You find other things to dream about instead of a career. You create experiences with your friends that are both fun, but also not detrimental to your health. I could not explore the city of Chicago by walking everywhere, so I managed to explore it with a helicopter ride! It is critical for both your mind and body to find activities that you are able to do.

While these are definitely not the 20s that I hoped I would be having, I know that my experience is one of strength, determination, and hope. It is important for me to remember that just because I am sick does not mean my life is worth any less than others. Just because I am sick does not mean I am less fun than my peers. Just because I am sick does not mean that my 20s have to be abysmal.

This story originally appeared on Chronic Love Club.

Originally published: May 1, 2018
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