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Why I'm Thankful to My Illnesses for Getting Me in Touch With My Body

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Me, Myself and My Inhaler

Thankful for my illnesses: this is something I never thought I would feel, let alone write about.

I’ve been asthmatic since birth. My whole life has been connected to some inhaler or another. I have to take preventative medicine twice a day; without it, I feel like someone is sitting on my chest, crushing my lungs.

So…why am I thankful for it? I guess I am not thankful for my asthma, but rather for the fact that it has improved drastically since I was a child. There was a time when I would have to be hospitalized at least once a year because I simply could not breathe. Now, I really only feel that horrible pressure in my chest when I do cardio (probably my least favorite thing in the world) or when the seasons change.

Enter More Invisible Illnesses

My other problems started a lot later in my life, and I am still adjusting to them. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s disease in January 2015, after many emotionally draining months of not understanding why I was always so sad, why I was perpetually exhausted and why I couldn’t seem to focus on or remember anything.

Invisible illnesses are difficult to navigate. If I look fine, I must feel fine, too, right? There was nothing on the outside to indicate I had a problem. I ignored my symptoms for months – months I could have used to start healing – because I thought everything I was feeling was just in my head. I dismissed very real problems. When I finally decided to go to the doctor, it wasn’t because I was depressed or could barely keep my eyes open after 2 p.m. Nope. It was because I was losing hair. My ponytail had shrunk alarmingly, and because I could now see that something wasn’t right, I decided to seek help.

I am thankful to hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s because they have taught me so much about my body. I am more in tune with myself than I have ever been. And now I know being dismissive of myself is bad. I listen to every word my body speaks and try to find a solution when it asks for help. I no longer take things in stride or hope time will sort everything out.

Hours spent researching these conditions have cleaned up my diet considerably. I try to incorporate healing foods as much as my budget will allow, and I try not to drown my sorrows in sugar. I am now more cognizant of what I choose to put into my body.

My illnesses have also taught me to be thankful for the joy I feel when I read. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love losing myself in a book. Books allow me to see hundreds of places, eat incredible food and experience numerous different lives, all from the comfort of my chair.

Unfortunately, there was a time last year when my greatest love brought me a lot of pain. I couldn’t get through two pages of a novel without completely losing concentration. I tried re-reading books I could usually devour in a matter of hours and found I was forgetting events that occurred a few pages prior. It may sound dramatic, but this was a very dark time. Without books, such a vital part of my identity, what did I have?

It took a few months for me to heal the brain fog that had been plaguing me. I still lose focus faster than I usually would, but it has improved considerably. I now read almost as much as I did before my diagnosis. Illness taught me to appreciate my love for books, to really value the journeys I take with every page I turn.

Chronic illnesses are horrible. It took me a long time to find the positives in my situation, but I now truly feel that these experiences have made me stronger. I appreciate my mind and body and treat them with a lot more respect.

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Originally published: November 11, 2016
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