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Why I Choose to Stand Unashamed of My Illness

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We live in a society which idolizes image and perfection. A world which admires those who carry and present themselves as seemingly “put together.” Those who are successful and on top of every aspect of their lives. Those who can juggle multiple commitments at once, exercise seven days a week, socialize, study, work and boast perfect health. The busy, full lifestyle is the model in the West.

I used to be one of those people. One who idolized health, fitness and perfection. I used to be able to keep up with the pace and activities of my peers.

However, 18 months ago now, my body started falling apart. It became weak, sick and fragile. My capacity stripped. I lost weight, muscle and strength. I was confined to my bed or the hospital. Everything hurt. The pain was chronic and relentless. The symptoms life-altering. I changed. No longer was I capable of running the same race as those around me. My body became “disabled” and I simply couldn’t keep up.

I found that the emotional identity struggle this presented was overlooked by my doctors. The change to my personality wasn’t their primary concern. Since then, I’ve been on this teething journey – with my illness removing some of what was, leaving me to redefine who I am and reconsider how to run my battery on “energy saving” mode.

To be honest, there have been times when my health struggles have significantly impacted my self-esteem. Times of humiliation and shame when I faint in public places or fall apart crying in pain with my friends. Times when I feel overcome by guilt as I pull out of yet another social event. I’ve felt sad, a pang of grief – as I have missed out on activities and removed myself from opportunities.

I’ve also felt inadequate, altered and isolated. The dangerous act of comparison is always a trap. I have experienced that human need to “fit in,” to be “understood” by others, to be “normal” and “enough” – and I’ve been left feeling hopeless, staring at the daunting mountain I must climb in order to reach somewhat of an “adequate” level of functioning. However, my chronic illness has taught me so much in the way of identity. It has begun to re-shape the way in which I value myself, my energy and opportunities I do have.

Recently, I have been discovering the importance of running my own race. So often in life I think we can create a standard, a benchmark for ourselves based on where others around us are at. I know I certainly used to think that way.

This works somewhat when we have the capacity to “match” others. However, for the chronically ill person it can present an unrealistic standard and pressure. Our worth as a person should not be based on how much we can “achieve,” our health or our ability to push through our pain.

We have intrinsic value. A uniqueness, a personality, history, present, past and future like no other.

The path of illness is challenging, rocky and steep. There are definite low points and intense struggles that other people may never experience.

I’ve been encouraged therefore to not view myself in the light of my weakness, my struggle and limitations and instead look to what I have overcome.

The little victories we as chronically ill people fight each day for: making it through the supermarket, driving a short distance, completely physio exercises.

I’m making goals that are achievable and celebrating their attainment, while also giving myself grace in the setbacks, the times when maybe I push a little too hard to try and go out and get knocked down.

Giving myself grace is so important. Acknowledging my mistakes, but always remembering that perfection isn’t my aim – perseverance is. I may fall down, but I get back up again.

I stand unashamed of my weakness and struggle. I’m a broken human, imperfect. But I’m also made worthy. Worthy of love, commitment and perseverance. My life is worth fighting for. Disability, physical or mental illness is nothing to be an ashamed of. It’s a challenge, a mountain to climb and a struggle to navigate. Don’t compare your race to those around you – our journeys are unique and victories personal but equally valuable.

You are so much more than your illness.

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Thinkstock photo via Cofeee.

Originally published: May 5, 2017
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