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What It's Like to Be a Young Adult With Chronic Illness

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My close friend Cody, who has fought the same illness as me for years, called me today and said “there’s no manual to this. It’s like we have to write our own.”  So I’m writing this one for you, Cody, and for the hundreds of thousands who hear their racing thoughts echoed in your words. …

I recently received a message from a man who has experienced an excruciatingly painful illness for decades, telling me he had reached his breaking point and was done trying. Without much hesitation, after my initial reply he blatantly expressed that he wholeheartedly felt like dying. Though I knew he wasn’t currently in danger, I got what he meant.

Within the spaces between the words of an email sent from the other side of the world was the unspoken truth we all feel but work endlessly to conceal: he did not mean he wanted his life to end, he meant he desperately wanted it to begin. Most people are living to die, while those who are sick are tirelessly dying to live. Within this email lay another much deeper truth, one whose vision we see on the back of our eyelids as we close our eyes and try in vain to sleep.

Falling Seriously Ill Early In Life: Our Lives Will Never Be the Same

For those of us who fell seriously ill early in life, such as in our teens or 20s, this routine reminds us we have in many ways forgot what it even means to feel alive. Our days blur together, and in many ways we truly have never had the freedom to experience the liberation of feeling alive. Illness robbed us of the independence to experience the thrills of life that most young adults gloriously soak in, while we remain at home, soaking in the feeling of rotting away. Of course, this is merely self-pity and simply not true, lest we desire it to be. Nonetheless, the feeling manages to arise at times.

This sounds awful, and rightfully so. Yet it is the truth. It is my truth. It is perhaps your truth. It is the truth of countless young individuals throughout the world who struggle with some form of chronic illness.

Can any good come of such haunting truths? Absolutely.

But first, we must explore the bad if we wish to discover the good buried beneath the rubble of the lives we once lived.

Trying to Find the Silver Lining In Disability at a Young Age

Deciding to hunt for the silver lining of having a disabling illness early in life comes with a paradox — if we wish to find any silver whose lining is genuine and substantial, we must never water down the bad. Otherwise, the two might mesh, leaving us in an illusion in which we are forever confused.

Holding on to hope and fierce determination when all else fades away is not for the faint of heart, and neither are these words. These words are for those who are fed up with the surface talk of false positivity they constantly hear. These words are meant to dig deep, to resonate with the soul.  As you and I both know, that is where our true selves rest, always present and ready to face any struggle that may come our way, given we stay rooted with its existence.

So I will touch on the bad as a means to enable us to truthfully touch on the good. What those around us often fail to realize is in order to heal our spirits, we have to first acknowledge and embrace the rawness of our despair. There is a duality to all things in life, and make no mistake, pain and suffering are no exception. With integrity and insurmountable strength, we can once again find joy in our lives and much, much more. We can reach a state of peace and serenity and gain wisdom beyond our years. But as far as wisdom is concerned, it would be wise for us to never forget the words of William Stafford:

“Dawn comes, and it comes for all, but not on demand.”

The question of “why” we are ill is relatively unimportant in comparison to the question of “what” we are going to do with it. As Ghandi once said, “my life is my message.” It seems the most inspirational individuals are the ones who have overcome great struggle, who have withstood the unbearable. Because out of tragedy, unparalleled strength is born.

Falling chronically ill at an early age, such as in our teens or twenties, can make us feel as if our lives have ended before they even had a chance to begin. We grew up believing such conditions were reserved for “old” age, and that we were somehow exempt from serious illness and debilitation. Wheelchairs and walkers were a death sentence until we ourselves fell ill, and they suddenly became our best friends.

Upon initial diagnosis, however, we had no clue that they would merely transport us to a new life — to a rebirth, rather than to our death. As we continue our journey, we begin to understand we are chronically ill for a reason. When we are able to utilize our disabilities to empower others, we fulfill a far greater purpose than we ever dreamed of.

Illness Shatters Our Illusions and Exposes Our Truths

With the stripping away of who we once were comes the truth of who we are supposed to be. As our old selves fall away, we gain more than we lose, if we allow our losses to be windows for the universe to shine through us rather than holes of despair.

Once we are aligned with the divine essence of the universe, it begins to fulfill its destiny through us. Our destiny is no longer a hidden, mysteriously magic moment waiting to be revealed. It is there here and now, as tragedy crumbles the walls of illusion and exposes the truths of ourselves, others and the world around us.

It is a hauntingly beautiful, all-consuming thunderstorm raging within and without. We begin to fulfill our destiny as the universal power within connects with the power without, allowing the energies to finally work in synchronicity without the limitations of society short-circuiting the power lines between them. Our path is revealed as the universe firmly draws and pulls us towards certain activities and thoughts while repelling us from others.

Using Our Struggles and Adversity for Awakening

With time, chronic illness can end up awakening us to new dimensions within ourselves, rather than hindering and inhibiting us from life. When we stop feeling sorry for ourselves, we are able to wake up and allow the universal forces within us to become transparent magnets constantly gravitating us into alignment with our destiny.

At this moment, we possess the ability to realize deeply that our illness is not breaking us, it is making us. We are not dying, we are becoming more alive with each passing day, with each new struggle, given we approach every moment with open eyes and an open mind and heart.

What initially seems to be the death of who we used to be is a gift, an invitation from the soul for unlimited exploration and thus adaptation as we shift our way through the deep waters within us.  Essentially, we get to live two lives within one lifetime.

Although we may feel as if we are dying inside, the truth is new versions of ourselves is being born. After all, death cannot exist without life, the good without the bad, the strong without the weak or the peace of spiritual growth without the chaos of change.

Chronic Illness Doesn’t Have to Be the End of Our Lives, It Can Be the Beginning of New Richer Ones

While this is not the way we imagined our lives would turn out, we have great power to use our circumstances to help others by opening their eyes to what they are taking for granted in their own lives. All things truly great in life come when we stop attempting to control and manipulate every moment. When this happens, we no longer need to map out strict timelines of our life plans (as we have already learned, doing so is an incredible waste of time). Instead, we in ourselves become life’s plan.

We no longer have some far off goal to reach in life keeping us from living in the now. Instead, in a sense, we in ourselves become life’s goal. When we use our isolation to reach others it becomes clear that we are finding more than we are missing, because we can never truly find ourselves externally. The further we grasp for purpose externally, the further we get from our true purpose, which can only be found internally.

Getty image by so_illustrator

Originally published: March 21, 2020
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