When I Try to Find Peace With Chronic Illnesses That Can't Be Fixed
Tonight, sitting at the kitchen bench in my family home, nursing a mild concussion from a seizure, I am reminded of a truth I am still personally coming to terms with: I, Molly of Earth, have multiple chronic illnesses that have no sign of going away or even just calming down anytime soon. Now outwards looking in, this might sound a tad dramatic or even pessimistic. Typing “chronic illness” into Google, the following blurb appears:
“A chronic condition is a human health condition or disease that is persistent or otherwise long-lasting in its effects or a disease that comes with time. The term chronic is usually applied when the course of the disease lasts for more than three months.”
Three months. Ninety days, 2,160 hours. As someone who has been unwell for over eight years, three months doesn’t seem like a long time to be sick. However, for someone who had been an otherwise-healthy human up until this point, whose previous idea of being unwell for a “long time” was a month-long cold, it is an unfathomable length of time to be sick in any capacity that can’t be resolved with a doctor’s appointment, treatment plan and a trip to the pharmacy and natural health store.
For one who could best be described as sensitive yet stubborn, facing a diagnosis for something that is hitching a ride with me for life despite my best efforts to ditch it… You could say I experienced each and every one like another slash through my patchy-at-best attempt to lead the life I had planned and wanted so badly for myself. I wanted to get better, make my parents proud, actually finish university and become the independent and highly skilled vet nurse who worked full-time but managed to keep a dressage horse and went to horse shows like others go to shoe sales. I held on to this idea that I would get better and have this life I had planned out, that I could put this all behind me in the rearview mirror of the car I was medically fit to drive and could afford.
It wasn’t just me, though. Since the first specialist appointment, I have been presented with well-meaning advice, words of “encouragement” and stories of those who have beaten [insert illness here]. In a society where being healthy is the be-all and end-all that is reflected in how we go about our daily lives, it isn’t a surprise to me that people want those they care about to be well again. They may not like to see them suffer or become displaced in their pursuit of a full and happy life. But despite what the self-proclaimed health and positivity-hype gurus that fill Instagram tell me, sometimes no amount of willpower, positive mantras and healthy lifestyle habits will cure or control whatever medical mystery has joined me on my journey through life. I can imagine things such as “Are you even trying to get better?” or “You just need to think more positively” are uttered aloud because a healthy person is looking in, not knowing the harsh reality of chronic illness.
We often hear that things like denial, grieving and acceptance are all part of the healing process for any traumatic experience, which I think funnily enough can apply to the diagnosis of a life-shattering chronic illness. Denying the chronic nature of a diagnosis is something I have always been good at. Lying to myself that it had an expiration date kept me steadfast in my resolve to get my life back to how it was before. Despite all of this, I effectively lost the girl wearing the “healthy crown,” who was replaced with a person I didn’t recognize, let alone wanted to be around for the rest of my life. This is where grief comes in, once the true reality of my circumstances sinks in. It is so so tempting to allow oneself to sink to the bottom of this cliche ocean of despair and complete self-alienation from the rest of the world.
“When life gets you down, do you wanna know what you’ve gotta do? Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” — Dory, “Finding Nemo”
Dory is on to something here. Sh*t happens that is beyond our control. Do we remain stagnant and reliant on our own suffering? Or do we fight though the darkness to bask in the bittersweet sunrise that is the acceptance of what we can and can’t change, and shape our own path of new normal and all of its little losses and self-made victories? It’s up to you, and you alone.
The one thing I didn’t expect while on my own journey to acceptance of my chronic illnesses was people’s at times hostility towards this idea of being at peace with what is, and what isn’t. Just because one accepts it, doesn’t mean they like it, or let it define them as a person. Certainly anything that alters my life ends up being a facet of who I am, but it is not my whole story.
Where am I going with this? Simply, do not let other people’s opinions of how you should feel about your illness(s) sway you from the personal path of healing following a diagnosis. After all, you are the one who has to live in your body and make the hard choices at the end of the day, not them. Wear your crumpled crown with pride and reign over the chaos as best you can.
Follow this journey on A Fragile Heroine.
The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.