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When Chronic Illness Affects Your Life Plans

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If you have stumbled upon this article, it is probably because the title resonated with something going on in either yours or a loved one’s life. For a “healthy person” alone, day-to-day things don’t go as planned. You miss the bus. You drop your coffee running late to class. You forget your keys. Now, all of these things are unfortunate and may put a damper on your day, but they are not life-changing.

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For someone with chronic illness, we all know that things really do not go as planned. You’re forced to become a part-time student. You spend more days in the hospital than with your friends. You have no choice but to grow up way before you have to. Nobody plans to get a chronic illness. When we were all little children making big dreams for our future, chronic illness was most certainly not in our plan.  If you’re like me, I never thought anything would happen to me.  I expected to carry out my life plan that I had set for myself since a young child. However, since I started my chronic illness journey, I learned that many of these things were out of my control.

Life just does not work this way. I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason. And throughout my life, that has continued to be proven true. When I got sick four years ago, I never thought a “minor stomach problem” would turn into a lifelong battle against my own body. Now I am not going to sugar coat this, but being a young person with chronic illness sucks. You see all of your peers going out and having fun.  They take for granted day-to-day tasks such as being able to participate in sports and going out to eat. Somedays you don’t even have enough energy to get out of bed. You feel left out. You feel isolated. You develop anxiety and depression because
you don’t know how to cope with this hand you’ve been dealt. You are a 20-something-year-old living in an 80-year-old person’s body. But, you know what the difference there is? The 80-year-old who is sick in bed has lived their life. We have not even had a chance to live yet.

People get divorced, children get cancer, soldiers get killed in war. These are all things that are not part of anyone’s life plan and can be extremely hard to deal with and make sense of. Getting diagnosed with a life altering illness is no different. I have had an internal battle with myself for the last four years. My mind versus my body. My mind constantly being the little voice telling me to be better and keep up with my plan. My body telling me it’s had enough and needs rest. As an eager 17-year-old getting ready to move out of the house and go to college, I was never expecting my life to turn upside down. I always wanted to become a doctor and work with babies. But, I soon realized after my first year of college that the rigor of that career path wouldn’t work with my health. You may be thinking, “Big deal, you had to change your major?” It is a big deal, I suddenly started to lose more and more control over things in my life. Even to this day, my pain levels, diet, and energy affect everything I do or don’t do on a day-to-day basis.

Through my illness, I found the perfect career for me. I am going to be a dietitian. After getting sick, I knew it was my calling in life to work in the healthcare field. I want to be that advocate for patients that I did not have. Be the professional that listens to patients and don’t simply tell them it’s all in their head. Be the professional that doesn’t tell patients, “I don’t like working with patients with (insert condition here) because you’re hopeless.” I want to be that professional that looks for stripes when I hear hoof beats.

Being a type A personality, it’s been hard to wrap my head around all of these decisions and lack of control I’ve had over my life. I did not want to take a fifth year. I did not want to “start my life” a year behind everyone else. I was so caught up in what the people around me were doing that I forgot to focus on myself. I forgot to focus on all of the progress I have made both mentally and physically over the last four years. I forgot that your average college student doesn’t deal with constant symptoms and has to be a part-time student because of it. I am on my own timeline, path, and journey. This is my story to be told. Without these chronic illnesses, I would not be the person I am today. With these illnesses, I found strength I never thought I had, maturity I’ve gracefully grown into, and I have realized how valuable life is, more than most of my peers ever will.

I want you to remember that you’re not alone. Everyone is fighting some unknown battle whether you can see it or not. You are on your own timeline and you are right where you’re supposed to be right now. Did you wash your hair today? Good job! Did you manage to make it through the work day? Excellent. Did you simply get out of bed and tell yourself that you can do this? Amazing. Celebrate the little victories, and the rest will come later.

Originally published: October 5, 2018
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