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The Unique Strengths of Living With Chronic Illness

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“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes it’s the quiet voice in the night saying we’ll try again tomorrow.” –Mary Anne Radmacher

This week has been challenging. A year ago, I would never have imagined that I could handle such a thing. But honestly, it hasn’t been the hardest week this year.

I keep seeing posts on Instagram about strength: about building mental strength to focus better and push yourself at work. About people building physical strength with big lifting goals or by training for longer road races.

And obviously, those are incredible strengths. But there are other types of strength that we don’t talk about. Those are the strengths I’ve used this week. The strength to ask for time off work even though I’ve missed a lot of work recently. The strength to give yourself time to rest. The strength to do a painful medical test that you know will make you sick because you need the answers it might give. The strength to get up every morning, even though you’re exhausted and in pain. The strength to decide that even if today was miserable, I will go to bed hoping that tomorrow is a new day.

I had two tests done yesterday: a colonoscopy and an endoscopy. I was terrified of both of them: the endoscopy because I was traumatized by the same test when I was 7 years old, and the colonoscopy because I’ve heard that it’s terrible. My whole life, I’ve been terrified of vomiting, and during the preparation, I vomited 12 times.

But there were also other parts of this week that were challenging. I had to talk to my boss over the long weekend to ask him if I could miss half of the work week to do these procedures that needed to be done this week. I had to ask a new coworker to drive me to these appointments because my other friends can’t drive. I had to manage the scheduling, pre-op, and post-op care for myself since I live alone and my family couldn’t come to help me.

These aren’t the types of challenges and skills that you can post about on social media. These aren’t things I can tell my friends about. But they’re my reality. And I’m proud of myself for being strong enough to do them.

When we think about invisible illnesses, we often think about the challenges, the struggles that people don’t see. But that’s not the only thing people don’t see: they don’t see the strength that keeps us going every day. They don’t see the determination that lets us put up with the many challenges. They don’t see the skills of self-advocacy we are forced to develop. They don’t see the strength it takes to resist the endless pressures of hustle culture.

It’s not easy to talk about, most people who haven’t experienced chronic pain or illness can’t imagine what it’s like. When you think about a “typical” sick day, it doesn’t seem like it’s about strength, it’s mostly about resting and recovering for the next day when you’re better. But with chronic illness, you never know if/when you’ll be better. Instead, you have to be strong enough to keep going anyway.

I first read the opening quote in Jessie Diggins’ “Brave Enough” (an incredible book I recommend to everyone). To me, it perfectly captures the strength we must have to live with chronic illness. Sometimes, we forget how strong we have to be. Sometimes, just choosing to keep living our lives is the hardest thing in the world. Even on my hardest days, this quote reminds me to keep going, and that sometimes, just that decision is everything.

This story originally appeared on Purple Garlic.

Getty image by Rudzhan Nagiev.

Originally published: August 2, 2022
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