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Why I'm Thanking My Chronic Illness This Thanksgiving

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I think it’s pretty clear to everyone, thanks to the endless text messages from loved ones, never-too-many Instagram posts, Facebook posts, and tweets that Thanksgiving is a time of thanks. Nevertheless, this Thanksgiving I will be indulging in the festivities with an entirely new perspective and thought in mind, and I have my chronic illnesses to thank for that.

This Thanksgiving, the bulk of the population will take a few minutes out of their day to have a moment of thanks or shed light upon how grateful they are for their loved ones; they will let somebody in front of them on the road while driving to dinner and due to their high spirits, they will perform little random acts of kindness throughout the day. Reality is that despite the meaning behind this holiday, when the word “Thanksgiving” comes to mind, many automatically associate it with parades, turkey, delicious food, family time, dressing up, and oh, how could I forget, Black Friday!

As I sit here affected by more chronic illnesses than I can count on one hand, I’m precisely and carefully planning out my week, day by day, so I have enough spoons to assure that I will be able to maneuver my body out from under the covers Thanksgiving morning. Come Thanksgiving morning thanks to postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), getting into that upright position most definitely won’t be a speedy process. As I inch myself upright little by little, I’ll grab my phone to make the time go by faster. I’ll gather a list in my head of people who I want to thank and quickly realize this task is going to be a lot easier than I originally thought.

As names pop in and out of my head I’ll be reminded of the harsh words and accusations, the people who never checked in during my times of need, the ones who spoke badly about me the second I turned my back, the ones who told me “to get over it” or to “just be happy,” and the ones who will simply never get it.

An overwhelming feeling of thanks brings tears to my eyes for the ones who stayed by my side when everybody who I thought loved me turned out to abandon me. I could not be more thankful for the ones who have stuck by my side and continue to. I know more often than not you find yourselves asking how you can help because you’re dumbfounded. I want you to know and believe that when you’re lost for words when tears are falling from my eyes, the way you wrap your arms around me and simply let me cry is the most comforting action. I feel bad and feel that I’m dragging you along on what seems to be a never-ending roller coaster that is full of more stomach-dropping moments rather than climbing the hills.

Although, reality is, you understand that I did not choose this life that I live. You hate to see me in pain, both physical and emotional, through those falls on the roller coaster that I can’t seem to get off. You know that more than anything I want with all my heart to be healthy again, I want that glow on my face, and smile and positivity that catches the eyes of others. You know, trust, and believe that what I’m going through is real. You could easily abandon because it’s all simply “too hard” and “too depressing,” after all that is the route many do choose. Although if I have taught and proved anything to you over these years, it is that I am a fighter. I think Thanksgiving is a time to shed light on the fact that you are just as much of a fighter as I am. You are not tied down to this life like I may be, yet you choose to not leave my side no matter how hard it gets. You don’t even give yourself a break, and come and go as you please like some think they can, because after all I don’t get a break.

This Thanksgiving you deserve to be recognized and I am beyond thankful to know that I have found the ones who truly mean it when they look me in the eye and tell me, “I love you.” I know who my support system consists of, who has my back, who will be there not only through the good times… but ugly ones, too, who will let me vent, who has my best interest, but most of all the ones who I should choose to devote my time and energy to. A lot of people don’t learn who their true friends are at a young age and if it wasn’t for a life of chronic illness I would be right there with them. While to my surprise I still run into a rude awakening every now and then, for the most part I believe that thanks to my chronic illnesses, I have a pretty good handle on who I should be thanking this Thanksgiving.

Once finally out of bed, I’ll scan my closet for a Thanksgiving outfit. Most girls my age are grabbing dresses out of their closet that’ll show off their legs or maybe their opting for the low V-neck, showing a tasteful amount of cleavage, to hopefully catch that cute guy’s attention when they post their “Thanksgiving Picture” to their social media accounts. I will very differently be grabbing the most conservative, least-skin-showing outfit I can find. I’ll do this in hopes of covering the lesions that cover my body, head from toe, thanks to pityriasis lichenoides et varioliformis acuta (PLEVA), in hopes of hiding the blood pooling from POTS and color changes of my limbs from complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), and in hopes of distracting those from the malnourishment my body is enduring from gastroparesis. I’ll make every last attempt to appear healthy to avoid the “are you OK” and “You don’t look well” comments. Despite it being very easy to let visible signs that scream “I am ill” get the best of you, I have learned that sometimes you must learn to walk around with your chin held high, ignoring the gawking stares, and truly not giving a crap about what people think. I’m thankful for my chronic illnesses giving me the confidence to go out and not let anything visible of my illnesses define me.

Branching off of that, I’m thankful for the ones who look past the visible signs of illness and realize I am much more than that. The ones who accept me and tell me I’m beautiful despite it being a PLEVA flaring day. Thanksgiving is the perfect reminder that despite everybody glowing in the newest trends (and looking fabulous doing it), the truth is, we take a lot for granted and not until you are thrown into a situation similar to the ones my life has shown me do you realize that there is a lot more to be confident about and thankful for than what is visible to the human eye.

So as we dive into this holiday of thanks I encourage each and every one of you, both sick and healthy, to have an open mind. After all, there is a lot to be thankful for in this life we live. To those who are sick and affected by chronic illness, whether it is a good or bad day, I’m sure Thanksgiving makes you view everything a little differently due to your illness. It’s easy to let negative energy get to us and drown in the thoughts that will ultimately get us down. Please remember no matter how many times it has been said to you that everything happens for a reason, and despite what you think, you were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.

I know at times things seem unfair and the holidays tend to trigger that thought, but you have been exposed to so many things and have learned so many lessons and have grown to be a warrior, and this Thanksgiving you should be forever thankful for your strength, the lessons learned, and the ones who never left your side.

If you are healthy and reading this, I sincerely hope from the bottom of my heart you don’t take a single thing for granted this Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is associated with a huge meal full of perfectly cooked golden browned turkey, melt-in-your-mouth stuffing, fresh roasted veggies, mashed potatoes, and whatever else you will be devouring. It is easy to sit at the table eating heaping plates full of your favorite food and not think twice about it. I’m guilty of doing that in the past as well. Although despite what I thought I learned that even more could be taken away from me, due to my recent diagnosis of gastroparesis, my Thanksgiving dinner will be atypical and probably half of your appetizer.

When stomachs are full, happy faces are on, and Thanksgiving is coming to a wrap, most kids my age will be texting their friends and gathering their money to go out and partake in the Black Friday Madness. Although my body won’t allow me to do this. Instead, when the clock hits 10 I’ll probably be getting into my pajamas and crawling into bed thanking God for giving me the strength to make it through another day. I’ll have mixed emotions as clearly it is no fun missing out on quite a lot, but one thing for sure is that a huge part of me is going to realize that I should be and am so thankful for the lessons chronic illness has taught me and for the ones who have been by my side through it all. I truly can’t put into words how thankful I am for the people who keep my spirits up, chin high, and a smile on my face. To be completely honest I have no idea where I would be if it wasn’t for them.

To whoever may be reading this, sick or healthy, have a happy Thanksgiving. You have a whole lot to be thankful for!

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Originally published: November 21, 2016
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