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When I Accepted That the Person I Was Before My Illness Was Gone

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Scary title, huh? In my opinion, all severe chronic illnesses can be thought of as “terminal.” Wait. What? That is not what the doctors say. 

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I don’t agree. Let me explain. 

I have fibromyalgia, asthma, a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, severe allergies, sleep apnea, anxiety, and the list goes on. With the exception of severe uncontrolled asthma, none are considered diagnostically life-threatening. 

So why do I say chronic illness is a “terminal” condition? The person you used to be is gone — I believe permanently gone. 

I used to be a very active, ambitious, type-A personality. I was the go-to person if you needed something done or an obscure fact remembered. I could run, jump, dance, lift and work for 18 hours straight without blinking. 

Then the chronic illnesses hit. Now I need at least one nap a day to even think straight. I can not lift more than five pounds without risking a partially dislocated joint. I can’t go into crowded areas because the scents will make it hard to breathe. I have to rest for days in order to enjoy an all-day event. The pain never stops. 

Sounds like I am describing two different people, huh? Well in a way, I am. People ask me how I cope with my illnesses. It was not easy and it was not fast. Some days I still hate how my body fails me. 

But what truly got me through was realizing that the person I was before was gone. And I needed to allow myself and those around me to grieve that loss. The grief has lessened over time, but just like the physical loss of a loved one, it still hits you at random times. 

Out of the ashes of the person I was has risen the person I am today. I had to get to know this new person. Figure out how she fit into the world. And learn to love her as she existed now rather than seeing her as a shadow of who she used to be before chronic illness took over. 

I also had to introduce this new person to the people in my life. Some have learned to love and accept the new me. Others were unable to do so and I sadly had to let them go from my life. But it has allowed me to be happy and that is what is most important. 

So if you are struggling with what used to be or looking back, stop. Accept the fact that your former self is gone. Grieve for the loss. Understand your family and friends are grieving, too. Let the past go and look to the future. 

It is time to start loving who you are now. You are worth it. 

Originally published: October 10, 2016
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