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6 Things I Do to Find Happiness After Living With Chronic Illness for 15 Years

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I’ve lived with chronic illness and pain for a long time. I was diagnosed with lupus and fibromyalgia in 2001. At the time, I was in my early 30s and never really took the time to think about the magnitude of this and what it meant for my future. I was a young mom raising two little kids at the time and I guess a big part of me still felt invincible due to my youth. I was in denial.

But now it’s been awhile. Fifteen years later and I’m now 46, my kids are grown, and the complications and pain from my illnesses have increased over the years. Although I will never lose hope that maybe someday a cure for my illnesses will be found, I have gotten more realistic in the fact that maybe it won’t.

So my job is to find a way to live with this. Not just exist. And the way I choose to live with this today is through happiness and gratitude.

The way I figure it is this… this is my only life. For whatever reason, I was given this big plot twist in my story that I wasn’t expecting. But once I came to a point of acceptance of my illness, I had to take action. I do not want to waste this life by complaining and being negative. That’s a miserable existence and one that I’m not interested in at all. I want to be happy! Isn’t that the ultimate goal, after all?

So here’s what I do.

1. I practice gratitude. Some days I wake up and I’m not exactly in a positive
mood. The pain can get pretty overwhelming at times as I’m sure anyone struggling with chronic pain and illness can relate to. But the first thing that I do every morning is to set an intention of gratitude. I’ve been doing this “gratitude project” (you can read more about it in my previously published article “When I Vowed to Fight My Chronic Pain By Writing My Gratitude Every Day on Facebook”) where I state one thing I am grateful for every single day. By trying to never repeat entries, it forces me to dig deep and really think about what I’m grateful for in my life. And there are so many things. Today I was grateful for sunsets. Yesterday my gratitude was being able to attend my son’s high school senior banquet!

There are so many things in life that are good that we with chronic illness tend to forget because we are so consumed by our pain. So by putting it out there and setting my intention, it starts my day on a humble and happy note.

2. I talk to other people. And only positive people (negative peeps need not apply!). Sometimes, on bad days, I really don’t want to talk to anybody, but I force myself to. I have learned that by talking to others, there are times when I forget about myself, my problems, and my pain. Those moments can be very brief, but they do exist! I think that we are made for human connection, and if I leave myself alone for long enough, guaranteed I will be spending 100 percent of my time in my head… and that just makes my emotional pain worse. Being and laughing with others makes me happy. Especially on my bad days.

3. I listen to my favorite music! I have an awesome playlist I have put together of all of my favorite songs. When I am in a bad mood on a bad pain day, there is no way I can stay there in my personal pity party after listening to “Happy” by Pharrell, “Shiny, Happy People” by the B-52s, or “Mandy” by Barry Manilow (don’t judge me!)  If I have to listen to the same songs over and over, so be it. I blast them in the car…in the shower….whatever! Music is another thing that can take my mind off of the pain and put a smile on my face.

4. I try to stay away from the news. This can be a tough one, but I’ve determined that the world will go on without me if I don’t listen to or watch news 24/7. It’s been a rare occurrence where I have felt good after a news broadcast. There is so much negativity out there! And since my body is now hard-wired for giving me difficulty, I need to focus on keeping myself as positive as possible if I want to live a happy and serene life. So if I’m not caught up on current events…who cares? I’m certain I will find out when there is something of dire importance for me to know. But in the meantime, no news is good news….for me.

5. I meditate. This one took a lot of practice, but I try to do at least five minutes of meditation every day. It really helps to keep me focused and to calm me down. Somehow, even five short minutes can set the rest of my day off on a positive note.  You can do it anywhere and it’s free!  You can find some really great guided
meditations on YouTube, which is what I do.

6. Be silly! A few months ago I dyed my hair purple which was a huge deal for me. I don’t even have double piercings in my ears! I did it for a few reasons including supporting a friend and for lupus awareness. But the silliness of having purple hair at age 46 showed huge growth for me and made me smile a lot. I got so many fun comments on it, and on a personal level it showed that I’m never too old to do something silly. One of my favorite quotes is: “Stop taking life so seriously. It’s not like we are getting out of here alive!” And I couldn’t believe in that more.

Maybe life has dealt me lemons, but I try to spend my time making lemonade out of it because this life is too short to be spent being miserable. There is so much beauty in
life and complaining keeps me from discovering true happiness.

Soak in those sunsets. Engross yourself in great conversation. Sing along with your favorite song at the top of your lungs! There is so much in life that is good and
beautiful and fun and funny. If we aren’t paying attention and are too busy focusing on the bad stuff in our lives, we might miss it. I’ve been given this gift of life and I don’t intend to take that for granted.

I choose happy!

If you are interested in joining me and others on a journey towards discovering happiness and joy in the face of chronic pain/illness/disability, feel free to join my Facebook group Attitude of Gratitude With Chronic Pain.

Image via contributor

Originally published: April 29, 2016
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