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My Chronic Illness Taught Me How to Be Loved

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For years I believed I was in a relationship with my illness. I blamed my empty bed on Lyme, as if the disease had a monopoly, not on my tissues, but on my heart. I was lonely. I spent three years post-diagnosis being single and cynical. That easily could have remained my story for my whole life.

In a life filled with chronic illness, there often isn’t room left for defenses or carefully cultivated versions of myself. The energy that otherwise goes into putting on metaphorical makeup and maintaining a “life is good” mask is mostly diverted towards my body. I truly believed that my honesty made me less desirable and that the messiness of illness was too much for someone to want.

I am so glad I tested that hypothesis. Little by little I noticed moments with friends, boyfriends, classmates, and teachers that seemed to disprove my ideas about love. There were people who wanted to hold me while I cried, and boyfriends who continued to show up on my worst days with reassurance and tenderness. I began an Instagram sharing my experience through art and received abundant support from my extended community. They pointed me towards another theory. It is this:

Illness demands we become vulnerable and, as Brene Brown knows, it is ultimately vulnerability that creates the basis for true connection. In other words, my illness has actually taught me how to love. But more importantly, it has taught me how to be loved.

It was my birthday yesterday and I spent the day writing love letters to the people in my life. I am insanely grateful for their love, but I am even more grateful that my illness has taught me to ask for it, to let it in, and to celebrate it.

So this is my birthday wish for you:

Don’t let your darkness and your pain wear you down, let it wear you open. Let it soften you like water pouring over a river rock till you can lean fully into another. Let someone wipe the tears from your cheek. Let it crack open your awe for small moments of vitality. Unfortunately this life is hard enough. It’s pain either way, and it will always suck. You decide which story you’re going to tell. Can you choose, at least today, to cast vulnerability and love as your main characters?

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Originally published: June 22, 2017
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