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The Gifts Chronic Illness Brought Me After I Dug Myself Out of the Darkness

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In previous articles I’ve written about living with chronic pain and illness, I’ve talked about a very dark period in my life where I just let the emotional pain of living with chronic illness take over my life for about four years. It left this previously social and happy person feeling very isolated and full of misery and despair. I couldn’t see how living with such pain could ever bring me happiness again.

When I was able to dig myself out of that mess and start anew three years ago, I vowed to work hard every day to ensure that I could live peacefully, gratefully and happily with my chronic pain and illness and I have done just that. I am so grateful for this wonderful life I’ve been given! I have been lucky enough through my “gratitude project” to realize that I have received so many gifts in my life because I live with chronic pain and illness. I’d like to share them with you:

I’ve learned to appreciate the value of time. When you live with chronic pain/illness/disability, you spend a lot of your time waiting. Waiting for test results to come back. Waiting for doctors to return your calls. Waiting for new medications to take effect. At times, each hour and each minute feels like an eternity while you are waiting for these things. So I will always appreciate the value of time and have developed an enormous amount of patience because of it.

I’ve learned how to tap into my vulnerability. Every Tuesday night I go to my Chronic Pain Anonymous meetings where we share about each other’s journeys to living a fulfilling life with chronic pain. At times it’s not easy to open up about feelings that I may keep close to the vest. But by doing so, I release the hold those feelings have over me and I feel better emotionally and walk out of there feeling like a million bucks. The same thing goes for my beloved Facebook group “Attitude of Gratitude With Chronic Pain” where we all encourage each other every day to show our vulnerabilities so we can live a better life. It requires a great deal of trust on both ends and I consider it a privilege when someone shows me their vulnerable side.

I’ve learned how to adapt to new situations. Every day is completely different when living with chronic pain and illness!  Our symptoms can change, at times drastically, day by day. And we must adapt accordingly. Just this week I have had a new symptom pop up due to a side effect from a new medication which leaves me unable to drive. It’s things like this where I have become an expert at adapting to new situations. I’m very grateful for this tremendous asset.

I’ve developed an awesome sense of humor! At times, living with chronic pain and illness is no laughing matter. But I’ve learned to take it all in stride and even laugh about it a lot because for me, it’s much easier to take some of this serious stuff with a lighter attitude. A few months ago, I started developing neurological issues caused by my lupus, and I developed severe tremors. It became difficult for me to do a lot of the things I normally do on a daily basis. Although everyone in my life meant well, the looks of pity were pretty hard for me to handle. But one of my friends gave me the nickname of “Wiggles” and turned my somber mood into a doubled-over laughing fit. Since then, the name “Wiggles” has stuck with me every time my tremors develop. It really helps for me to laugh and take it all in stride.

I’ve learned to be able to appreciate the “good days” so much more. Just yesterday, I had an unusually good pain day.  And let me tell you… I felt on top of the world! When these days occur, I cherish every minute of it. I don’t think people without chronic pain/illness/disability realize the gift of being able to enjoy doing the mundane things in life like we do without chronic pain. I had a smile on my face all day and was so very grateful for the gift of the day.

I’ve learned to rejoice at a good night’s sleep as if I hit the lottery. Need I say more?

I’ve developed the most amazing friendships in my life. Because of my illness, I’ve been able to see who the really important people in my life are. There are the ones who have stood by me through thick and thin and who want nothing from me in return but to see me happy. Then there are the others I’ve gained because of my support groups and who I wouldn’t trade for the world! I’ve also lost some along the way, but I see that as a gift, too. As I see it, they were an important part of my journey, but are not meant to be a part of my future.

And finally…

I have been given the gift of recognizing how strong I am. I’ve been sick with lupus and fibromyalgia for 15 years. So long that I really don’t remember what it feels like to not have pain in my life. But the biggest gift this journey with chronic pain and illness has given me is that I now can recognize the enormous amount of strength I have. It’s easy to give up like I did prior to three years ago. But by practicing gratitude every day I have developed a strength that I didn’t even know I had. And that’s the biggest gift of all.

Enjoy your gifts.

Four members of a support group standing in a room in front of table
Lauren with three members of her support group.

Originally published: April 20, 2016
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