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8 Gifts That Can Be Gained From Having a Chronic Illness

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I have heard people say that life does not throw at you what you cannot handle. When I hear that, I often ask myself if being less strong would have prevented me from being a person dealt the cards of having Lyme disease. I will never know the answer to that question and trying to figure it out will run me in circles. Instead, I can only embrace what I have learned from my circumstances.

What I do know is that when life deals us a crappy card, we have several ways we can deal with it. We can sit and dwell in it, we can allow it to take over our life and control us, or we can push through the experience and allow ourselves to learn from it all. There will always be physical symptoms that are beyond our control but I believe the way we look at illness and how it shapes our identity is something we can learn to embrace with open arms. I live with the perspective that allows me to see that all my hardships are meant for a greater purpose. I like to believe that my illness helped me live in ways I wasn’t before. Through illness, I found out what life was really about.

I often ask myself who would I be without my illness and I realize that I would certainly be a different person. The real important question is, would I be a better person? I don’t believe so. I think that through navigating all the ups and downs on my path, I have come to have a greater love and understanding for all the events in my life and all the precious gifts that come with having a chronic illness.

1. Perspective

Life is too short, and too difficult to ever sweat the small stuff. Let’s face it, being sick allows us to have some dark moments. It is unnatural almost for someone to live day in and day out in physical or emotional pain. It sends shock waves because life has suddenly changed. Because I have gone to those dark places, I learn to love the simplicity of what life has to offer. Sunny days, pancakes, our dogs barking, kids singing in the backyard; whatever your simple moments are, we can learn to truly value them. They may not come often, but when they do, we can learn to celebrate things that healthy people take for granted.

2. Warrior Strength

Physical pain, emotional pain, financial pain, relationship pain, and the pain of losing the person you used to be. You cannot live with a chronic illness and not be affected in those ways. Every area of your life, including your sense of self, is shifted when faced with illness. You can learn to ride out the waves in these areas and learn to find out who you are even though you have some struggle in those areas. No matter how you come out of it on the other side, you are undoubtedly stronger than those who have not faced such challenges.

3. Compassion

Without your own struggle, it is sometimes hard to relate to other peoples. I have found the most empathetic, kind, selfless people have been faced with great adversity and pain. I believe it is only when you hurt deeply that you can learn to recognize and help support that suffering in others. The ability to relate helps us connect with others in a loving and authentic way. It is how we truly connect with the world.

4. Purpose

It seems almost contradictory that during our weakest moments, some of us find purpose, but it seems to happen. Before illness we are often preoccupied with things that don’t necessarily serve us in the long term. We may be chasing money, perfection, success or good looks and those things are not the key to happiness. Often the very things that are at our disposal bring us the most joy and therefore give us purpose. The love from our family, the help of a friend, and the way we can reciprocate and show appreciation are the things that can help us gain our purpose.

5. Acceptance

We may never be able to fully accept that our lives are compromised, but in some ways having a chronic illness can allow us to accept things we previously tried to change. We can learn that there are so many things in life we can’t control and so we learn to stress less over it. We can celebrate the small accomplishments in our days even if it means taking a shower or going grocery shopping. No matter what the daily goals are, we can learn that there is great accomplishment even in the smallest things.

6. Perseverance

We never give up. Life is really, incredibly hard and unfair at times but we have an internal cheerleader that helps us make it through the day. We may learn at our weakest moments that within us we possess tremendous strength. We know that our contribution to the world is important and that despite great hardship, we will try our best to do what we can. Every step counts and every day is a new chance to try again. We somehow pull through time and time again. We are still here fighting.

7. Self- Care

We have learned to slow down in life, even if it is not by choice. I don’t think I would have ever done that had my illness not knocked me on the ground. Being sick often forces us to prioritize ourselves in a way that most of us had not done before. Many people previously neglecting themselves and running themselves to the ground have learned to take care of their own needs. It is essential in life. By doing that, we can be much better at helping those around us. We learn that our own needs are very important and nurturing what’s special to us can be very rewarding. In our weakest moments, we can learn that we are capable.

8. Unconditional Love

We must love ourselves and our bodies even though we are betrayed by them. Having a sickness may force us to adopt a new way of valuing the person we are. We know we can’t always depend on our physical bodies to cooperate with us so instead we can learn to value the things about us that are constant and don’t change. Things like our sense of humor, our humility, our creativity, and our love for simply being alive. I believe those things can flourish and transform us into becoming the best versions of ourselves every single day even when faced with a chronic illness.

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Thinkstock photo by lolostock

Originally published: June 24, 2017
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