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When You Fight to Feel Strong While Living With Chronic Illness

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There is an old saying I’m often reminded of since living with chronic illness: “Your struggle today is your strength tomorrow.” While I believe this statement can be true sometimes, unfortunately strength does not always seem to swoop in on autopilot when someone lives with chronic illness.

A chronic, incurable illness can leave you feeling broken, tired, concerned and vacant. Consider that some people also have more than one illness. I’m not a person who feels strong in many ways. Many believe those in chronic pain must be strong in order to live with pain on a longterm scale. I have just always seen it as coping because it is the only choice I am given, not necessarily as strength.

Inner strength, whether we are aware of its presence or not, is something we depend on in great amounts to get us through the week. Yet there have been occasions over my decade of being chronically ill, which for the most part has been spent housebound, that I’ve just wanted to throw in the towel and give up. It’s not a good way to think because it can unfortunately turn you toward a hopeless mindset. However, I would be fibbing if I said I had not questioned it at times.

When you live with a rare, incurable illness, you often feel like you are continuously revisiting parts of your life. Although you are faced with many new hurdles to cross, you are frequently reminded of the every day struggles, too. It can begin to feel like you are on a constant treadmill of worry, concern, fear, positivity and negativity.

The longer I have lived with chronic illness, the more I have found myself questioning and trying to understand why this has been my lifestyle for over a decade, one that every day never ceases to amaze me in many ways. I question how illnesses can be so persistent and disruptive of my lifestyle, and how life can change dramatically when you lose your health.

Having a chronic illness and disability makes the fight even harder. The fight to live over existing. The fight to get through any big or small occasion, any social event and anything that can bring you great joy. It can feel like there is always an obstacle lying in the way, usually in the large shape of an illness that in no way decreases or disappears for you to go about your business. However, we do not have much choice about our genetics or the illnesses within our bodies, so we can only get on with it day by day.

Over the last few weeks, I have highly doubted my strength, even the smallest ounce, and without this you usually end up feeling incredibly defeated. When pain levels reach maximum exposure and you struggle to handle this lifestyle, the fear that already exists in your mind becomes your worst enemy. It escalates, causing you to question almost everything from your present to your future, when really we don’t know what tomorrow holds. I have accepted it will most likely contain pain, but I don’t know if that’s the pessimistic side of me.

Strength never seems apparent on my lowest days because my pain feels like it defeats me. Yet it’s there, in all of us. It is what keeps us going, fighting and breathing. It makes us try again even when we feel like it may be impossible. We don’t know what the future has in store for any of us. Add pain to the equation, and you could have fear about the future, but ultimately, you can also cling to the smallest flame of hope. That flame might die, but something will reignite the spark you can cling to.

Perhaps you hit many brick walls along the way that can deeply hurt you. This is inevitable because nothing is smooth sailing, especially in illness. However, these occasions also add to your resilience. Fall down seven times, stand up eight, as they say. I do not necessarily think this setback I’ve experienced is a bad thing. It can be distressing, but it can also prove that I can slowly come out of the other side. I know to expect its reoccurrence, yet I am also reassured these periods of time do not last so deeply forever. I accept that grieving and feeling defeated become two constant attributes in living my life with multiple, chronic illnesses. This time has allowed me to reevaluate my mindset and readjust my sails to face the strong force of wind that is longterm illness once again.

woman taking a selfie

Follow this journey on The Chronic Illness Diary of a Young Adult.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Originally published: February 26, 2016
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