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How Fantasy Books Helped Me Accept the Reality of My Chronic Illnesses

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It was another boring night and my pain was making another attempt at beating my “highest pain level” record. Lazily I grabbed my Kindle, no doubt one of the more precious things I own, and got a sample of a curious book called “Cinder and Ella” by Kelly Oram. With the ease only a practiced reader could wield, I read that book in one night. I had never felt so understood.

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For 18 years I had been pushing my health issues to the back of my mind, grinding to carve a space for myself in this world. Within seconds I had been transferred to a world where a regular girl struggled to live with a disability. Something she had not foreseen (it never is) completely altered the way she looked at herself and brought about brutal truths she had never had to face before. It was a tale of a girl learning to love herself as those who loved her saw her. She was beautiful no matter what deficiencies she saw in herself, because those so-called “flaws” were actually powerful strengths that made her uniquely her, in all her unfettered and unapologetic glory.

It hit home with me at a time when I didn’t realize I wasn’t the average girl, but also soothed my fears before they had a chance to grow. Each new sentence balmed my soul as I read the emotions I had felt for so long but had been unable to put into words. The book discussed many struggles that come with being different and not being at full health, especially the emotional struggles no one had ever talked with me about. That fear you will never be all right, the concern that you have lost yourself, and even more the poignant problem of who could love you and see the real you as you were before your health declined, and also the you that has grown through all your trials.

It was beautifully enlightening and I kept the book close for weeks after, reading it over and over again. I was relieved to not feel alone, and realizing there were others out there going through things that were equally hard for them warmed my soul. I had never felt so seen. At last I was looking at my health struggles as a part of me instead of a disease to be rid of, and I was also looking at them as a way to be better than I was. I began to see my chronic illnesses as a challenge to face head on and succeed, with no doubt a few compromises along the way. Exactly as life is meant to be lived.

I felt as if I had found the book I needed at exactly the moment I needed it to prepare me properly for what life and more health issues would bring. Years passed, more health issues came and more emotional and pain-filled struggles came. And as serendipity would have it, I came across “Seraphina” by Rachel Hartman. It hit me almost in the same way, but in an older and more mature way, just I had grown and matured the past five years.

As I read, I learned to come to grips with new health issues, realizing I am not the center of the universe and others have struggles that are different and even harder than mine. I absolutely needed that smackdown. Armed with that powerful knowledge and lesson, I found steady ground knowing not having “normal” health was not extremely rare and that I was not alone in my journey of feeling lesser with my disabilities. Even more intense was the challenging of my preconceived notions: I realized I had felt so wronged by the world and demanded compensation for things that “just were.”

I was put in my place and back on track to realizing my duty to bettering the world should come before the bettering of myself. We are all different and unique in ways others often cannot understand. That is as it should be, because we were meant to use it for good, to show others they are not alone and these mountains can be moved.

I never would have thought my love for reading fantastical fictional books about dragons, knights, princesses, princes and fairy tales would help me deal with my disabilities. Who knew that my obsession with reading and finding two diverse books could help me with the daily grind of surviving and perhaps even loving my health issues? Who can regret that?

Getty image by E71lena.

Originally published: February 4, 2019
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