About 10 years ago I had quite a big revelation. I had a pretty good life – good job, great friends and family, and essentially no complaints or problem areas. Sounds great, right? I also realized though that my life was just being lived, I wasn’t an active participant in it. I wasn’t truly living.
After much contemplation, I realized that part of the problem was that my life was being dictated by my fears. In addition, I wasn’t really actively pursuing my dreams. If they happened, great, but in reality they likely were not ever going to happen because I wasn’t doing anything to make them happen. So, I set some goals. Real, hard goals.
I decided my part-time job stocking liquor store shelves really wasn’t “working out.” (Who was I fooling?) So instead, I went out and bought a pair of great workout shoes, fun workout clothes, and I joined a gym. When the gym got old, I pursued more hardcore workouts from home, like the Beachbody Insanity and T25 workouts. Result: I felt great! I was physically in the best shape of my life and I loved how toned and muscular little me was!
So, I decided to take it one step further. Remember, the dream part? Well here’s where that comes in. I wanted to accomplish something big so that when I had a challenge later in life (little did I know there would be so many!) that I would have something to fall back on (“if I can do that, I can handle this!’). So, I spent six months boosting up my workouts in preparation to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. It’s the highest free-standing mountain in the world and was my first mountain. Once again, I bought the gear – the best hiking boots, poles, winter camping equipment, etc. I was determined that I wasn’t going to let something little like the wrong gear become a challenge. And I did it! I summited Mount Kilimanjaro in 2008. By far the most mental and physical challenge of my life. As I had promised myself, I gave it all the demons that had been haunting me all my life to that mountain and I came out of the clouds (literally) lighter and with a clean slate. Ready to achieve more dreams.
Next leap of faith: I LOVED the coaching I was doing at work. But I wanted more. I wanted to see if my coaching skills as an attorney and manager of a legal team would translate outside my direct reports. Opening a business, designing a logo, buying business cards, marketing it… Well, it all seemed overwhelming. However, little by little, I achieved each step. Eventually I had a wide variety of clients coming to me from a variety of marketing initiatives I had designed.
Right around this time though, things started sliding for me physically. First, I was finding my quality of sleep was drastically declining to the point it was affecting my motivation and energy levels during the day. And then more symptoms came. After a year of trials and many errors by my physicians, I was eventually diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). And then more medical issues arose.
And that’s when I relapsed in my life. I started letting my life simply be lived again; I was once again just going through the paces of each day, again and again. I was afraid to do anything in fear it might cause a relapse in my condition, or worse, what I call a “blackout” – where I get so exhausted that I simply lose consciousness for hours on end, waking up feeling like a truck had hit me. Let me tell you, once you feel that, it’s engrained in your mind. And you start to want to avoid doing anything to prevent that feeling from arising.
So, I stopped living. In part, it was easy because so may friends left once I got diagnosed (at the time, it was a real hit; now I see it as a win. I know who my real friends are now; they are the ones that stayed). Even so, I wasn’t going out much anymore. I craved my couch at all times and I shied away from all invites out of fear that I wouldn’t be up for it that day. In short, I let my #ChronicIllness cause a relapse in my life.
At some point, whether from boredom, encouragement from friends, or both, I decided my illness was not my whole life and I wasn’t going to let it control my life. Yes, I was still going to proceed with calculated caution to avoid a relapse in my condition, but I was not going to put my life on an indefinite hold.
So, I started living again! While I can’t work out because of my condition, I found meditation and yoga to be incredible new sources of relaxation. I started learning Tai Chai. I also threw myself back into my coaching, resulting in achieving a full client base built from returning clients and referrals. I also began writing and seeking out publishers for my articles. Quickly, I became a globally published author – how exciting! Most recently, I’ve even started my own blog. I’ve also co-founded the Minnesota ME/CFS Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Minnesotans with ME/CFS.
Moral of the story: Sick or not, truly living your life, being an active participant in it, and driving your successes is so much more rewarding than anything that will just come to you by happenstance. Also, letting your fears dictate your life is very self-limiting. Being appropriately cautious and knowing your medically-related limitations is one thing, but letting them hold you back from everything is another. There is still so, so much we can do.
Dare I say, my chronic illness has actually brought more fulfillment to my life, including focusing my success on helping others rather than just solely creating personal successes. To be honest, while the pain is real and in my face daily, I think ME has made me a better person on the inside. I’m still me, but I’m more me. I give more, I love more, I appreciate more, I am more.