Victoria Rio

@victoria-rio | contributor
Super Contributor
Victoria has battled Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease and Bartonella for almost 8 years. Through the ups and downs of chronic illness and intensive treatments, she tries to find purpose and positives. Writing helps organize her thoughts and validate her experience.
Victoria Rio

'(Un)Well' Review: Netflix Exposes the Wellness Industry

The Netflix Original docuseries “(Un)Well” examines the underbelly of the trillion-dollar global wellness industry. Does this industry rescue those ignored by traditional medicine? Or does it rob and endanger people desperately seeking relief? The six-part series delves straight into the mud: Are essential oils at the center of a massive pyramid scheme? Does the fad consumption of breast milk result in the exploitation of women? Is tantric sex a front for abusers? Does ayahuasca (a hallucinogen) treat trauma but cause psychosis? Is fasting more dangerous than helpful? Can bee venom cure chronic Lyme disease, or is it all just buzz? The questions are simple, but the answers are not. “(Un)Well” employs a nuanced perspective to examine potential emotional, physical and economic exploitation on both a micro and macro level. Expert consultation balances facts against the emotions of individuals’ stories. Additionally, as many wellness trends sweeping the West have roots elsewhere in the world, the inclusion of other cultural perspectives adds a layer of complexity and potential exploitation to the narrative. In sum, the series questions, “Does [the industry] bring health and healing or are we falling victim to false promises? Are we really getting well?” Many in the chronic illness community have experienced the wellness industry’s over-hyped promises and proportionately disappointing let-downs. On one hand, it gives hope to those who have exhausted all options that traditional medicine can or will offer (especially for chronic Lyme, the existence of which is controversial). On the other, the latest fad can minimize our suffering: “Just try ___ exercise/diet/supplement and you’ll be cured!” In my experience, that’s untrue. Additionally, many wellness trends lack the scientific testing for efficacy and safe consumption. This is not to say that no wellness remedies work. For example, research increasingly supports meditation, acupuncture and psychedelic psychotherapy, but not as cures. Anecdotally, I co-coordinated a pilot study of acupuncture for pain management in pediatric cancer. Our patients reported significant improvements in pain and nausea. However, we would never suggest acupuncture as a replacement for chemotherapy, radiation or surgery! Back to (“Un)Well.” I watched the bee venom episode first. I empathized deeply with the story of 24-year-old Kerri, who sought bee venom therapy as a last resort for chronic Lyme after years of ineffective pharmacological and herbal treatment. I felt validated to see the invisible struggle of the chronic illness community, as well as the acknowledgement of chronic Lyme as a legitimate disease, on such a huge platform as Netflix. Finally, the physical, emotional and economic desperation chronic illness patients battle in isolation is brought to the mainstream. Desperation makes these individuals vulnerable to exploitation; they are not inherently weak or more susceptible to snake oil salesmen. “(Un)Well”‘s kaleidoscopic lens into the wellness industry leaves the viewer submerged in an ethically ambiguous whirlpool. As a chronic illness patient who feels disenchanted with some aspects of traditional medicine, I welcome alternative routes to health, but my research background makes me yearn for large-scale clinical trials, and my marketing background makes me distrust anything that sounds too good to be true. So, “Are we really getting well?” Who knows! As a non-doctor and non-scientist, I am left to conclude that some wellness industry practices will be exploitative or harmful until we have more and better efficacy and safety data. We need more science! Regardless, if you enjoy thought-provoking and beautifully shot documentaries, consider watching “(Un)Well.”

Victoria Rio

COVID-19 Patients With Lingering Symptoms Are Being Dismissed

On May 2, Business Insider reported that some young COVID-19 patients are experiencing symptoms beyond the 14-day end point touted by the CDC and media. The article featured four patients in their late 20s and early 30s whose symptoms persisted for 21 to 48 days. Outside of this small sample, doctors acknowledge an unknown but growing number of “mild” COVID-19 cases enduring longer than expected. The World Health Organization cites a disease duration of up to six weeks. All but one of the featured patients radiated health before contracting COVID-19: running marathons, hiking and enjoying high-intensity careers. They felt completely blindsided by the severity and duration of the disease. CDC guidelines led them to believe that their youth and health exempted them from suffering: they would feel mildly sick for 14 days, but it wouldn’t be that bad. When their sickness endured longer than anticipated, these patients experienced a taste of life with chronic illness. They felt guilty and anxious about not being able to work or plan for life post-illness. As I am currently on an indefinite medical leave from work at 24 years old, I feel their pain acutely. It’s impossible to navigate life when your symptoms flare unpredictably. It’s emotionally debilitating to be physically unable to work or live independently, especially as a young adult. It’s futile to plan for anything beyond the next few minutes. Worse, the COVID-19 patients experienced the pain and humiliation of skepticism about their enduring illness. One said, “It was a very lonely experience for me… I felt kind of ignored by medical professionals because I think everyone had assumed you reach 14 days, then you’re fine, you’re recovered.” Many in the chronic illness community have lived through that isolation for years. It is our reality. Having battled chronic illnesses for eight years, I know the agony of having medical professionals dismiss my suffering. One doctor told me I was merely experiencing stress due to excessive self-imposed academic pressure. One told me I was dehydrated, and yet another said I was just anxious and depressed, which was untrue. The more I insisted I was ill, the more I was dismissed. Eventually I did develop anxiety and depression because as I became more ill, I lost hope of being taken seriously. It saddens me that some COVID-19 patients experience similar treatment. A Reddit thread claims that in the UK, patients with persistent symptoms are referred for psychiatric treatment, because doctors do not believe they could possibly still be sick. The chronic illness community understands that medical professionals intend to heal, not harm. They make decisions based on the knowledge and guidelines available to them. Authorities tell them that these patients “should not” be sick, so naturally they follow that advice. From the patient’s perspective, however, it seems hurtful and dehumanizing to have someone tell you your pain cannot be real. We with chronic illness fight desperately to convince the world that our suffering is real, while also fighting to prove we are equally capable as everyone else. @lornamcfindy described this desperately lonely experience when she tweeted, “Healthy people: I wish you knew how bone-crushingly exhausting it is to be this sick but having to work as hard at getting people to believe you as you do at just dealing with your illness every day.” Now we find ourselves in the best position to understand what the newly ill feel, and perhaps they are in the best position to understand us as well. We are used to these feelings, but they are being confronted with them for the first time, which is scary and overwhelming. We should believe COVID-19 patients claiming persistent symptoms. We owe them that, out of respect for their humanity. We also can validate their experience because it mirrors our own. Without further scientific research, laypeople and the medical community (including the CDC) should not engrave end dates on illnesses. Nobody understands this illness yet, so we owe patients the benefit of the doubt. Alleviating the stress of being dismissed might even facilitate recovery. Perhaps the experience of denial and dismissal will open the eyes of COVID-19 patients with persistent symptoms. They are now uniquely equipped to empathize with the chronic illness community. It feels bittersweet to no longer be isolated in the pain we have suffered for years. I sincerely hope that some of these “normal, healthy” people who have had a taste of the chronic illness experience can become our allies and advocates. We must support each other in order to end the cycle of isolation. With more voices united, someone might finally listen. Concerned about the coronavirus? Stay safe using tips from these articles: For Anyone Who Needs to Hear This: It’s OK to Just Exist Right Now Making the Most Out of Virtual Mental Health Appointments 10 Face Masks People With Chronic Illness Recommend 8 Soaps You Can Use to Help Prevent the Spread of Illness If I Get COVID-19 It Might Be Ableism – Not the Virus – That Kills Me

Victoria Rio

COVID-19 Patients With Lingering Symptoms Are Being Dismissed

On May 2, Business Insider reported that some young COVID-19 patients are experiencing symptoms beyond the 14-day end point touted by the CDC and media. The article featured four patients in their late 20s and early 30s whose symptoms persisted for 21 to 48 days. Outside of this small sample, doctors acknowledge an unknown but growing number of “mild” COVID-19 cases enduring longer than expected. The World Health Organization cites a disease duration of up to six weeks. All but one of the featured patients radiated health before contracting COVID-19: running marathons, hiking and enjoying high-intensity careers. They felt completely blindsided by the severity and duration of the disease. CDC guidelines led them to believe that their youth and health exempted them from suffering: they would feel mildly sick for 14 days, but it wouldn’t be that bad. When their sickness endured longer than anticipated, these patients experienced a taste of life with chronic illness. They felt guilty and anxious about not being able to work or plan for life post-illness. As I am currently on an indefinite medical leave from work at 24 years old, I feel their pain acutely. It’s impossible to navigate life when your symptoms flare unpredictably. It’s emotionally debilitating to be physically unable to work or live independently, especially as a young adult. It’s futile to plan for anything beyond the next few minutes. Worse, the COVID-19 patients experienced the pain and humiliation of skepticism about their enduring illness. One said, “It was a very lonely experience for me… I felt kind of ignored by medical professionals because I think everyone had assumed you reach 14 days, then you’re fine, you’re recovered.” Many in the chronic illness community have lived through that isolation for years. It is our reality. Having battled chronic illnesses for eight years, I know the agony of having medical professionals dismiss my suffering. One doctor told me I was merely experiencing stress due to excessive self-imposed academic pressure. One told me I was dehydrated, and yet another said I was just anxious and depressed, which was untrue. The more I insisted I was ill, the more I was dismissed. Eventually I did develop anxiety and depression because as I became more ill, I lost hope of being taken seriously. It saddens me that some COVID-19 patients experience similar treatment. A Reddit thread claims that in the UK, patients with persistent symptoms are referred for psychiatric treatment, because doctors do not believe they could possibly still be sick. The chronic illness community understands that medical professionals intend to heal, not harm. They make decisions based on the knowledge and guidelines available to them. Authorities tell them that these patients “should not” be sick, so naturally they follow that advice. From the patient’s perspective, however, it seems hurtful and dehumanizing to have someone tell you your pain cannot be real. We with chronic illness fight desperately to convince the world that our suffering is real, while also fighting to prove we are equally capable as everyone else. @lornamcfindy described this desperately lonely experience when she tweeted, “Healthy people: I wish you knew how bone-crushingly exhausting it is to be this sick but having to work as hard at getting people to believe you as you do at just dealing with your illness every day.” Now we find ourselves in the best position to understand what the newly ill feel, and perhaps they are in the best position to understand us as well. We are used to these feelings, but they are being confronted with them for the first time, which is scary and overwhelming. We should believe COVID-19 patients claiming persistent symptoms. We owe them that, out of respect for their humanity. We also can validate their experience because it mirrors our own. Without further scientific research, laypeople and the medical community (including the CDC) should not engrave end dates on illnesses. Nobody understands this illness yet, so we owe patients the benefit of the doubt. Alleviating the stress of being dismissed might even facilitate recovery. Perhaps the experience of denial and dismissal will open the eyes of COVID-19 patients with persistent symptoms. They are now uniquely equipped to empathize with the chronic illness community. It feels bittersweet to no longer be isolated in the pain we have suffered for years. I sincerely hope that some of these “normal, healthy” people who have had a taste of the chronic illness experience can become our allies and advocates. We must support each other in order to end the cycle of isolation. With more voices united, someone might finally listen. Concerned about the coronavirus? Stay safe using tips from these articles: For Anyone Who Needs to Hear This: It’s OK to Just Exist Right Now Making the Most Out of Virtual Mental Health Appointments 10 Face Masks People With Chronic Illness Recommend 8 Soaps You Can Use to Help Prevent the Spread of Illness If I Get COVID-19 It Might Be Ableism – Not the Virus – That Kills Me

Community Voices
Victoria Rio

Hailey Baldwin Defends Justin Bieber’s Lyme Diagnosis Online

Telling someone I have Lyme disease usually yields a comparable reaction to disclosing I have a cold. “So what?” People just don’t know what Lyme is. I don’t blame them; I wouldn’t either if it hadn’t nearly ruined my life. Now, when I share my diagnosis, they’ll say “Ohh, like Justin Bieber?” Um, yeah, sure… *sigh* Celebrities: They’re just like us…kind of… For the Lyme community, a celebrity diagnosis can spark much-needed interest and discussion. Finally, people might actually care about Lyme, woohoo! Any increase in public awareness is enormously encouraging and might trickle down into a little compassion for the countless “ordinary” people quietly battling Lyme every day. I don’t think celebrities suffer any more or less than the rest of us, but I think they suffer differently. And, after diving into the depths of Twitter, I’m glad I’m not one of them. In response to news of Bieber’s diagnosis, many fans tweeted messages of love and support, while others disclosed their own struggles with Lyme. Some critics apologized for trashing the singer’s disheveled appearance in recent months. All of this was uplifting and encouraging. Justin Bieber is currently battling Lyme disease and plans to release a documentary on his battle on January 27th. Wishing him all the best in his recovery! #LymeDisease #JustinBieber https://t.co/J7MtUVVcpl https://t.co/s2TIu1Lhmr— Lyme Treatment Foundation (@lymetreatmentfd) January 8, 2020 Several people called the diagnosis a publicity stunt, which is only to be expected in the world of celebrity gossip. At least the nonbelievers were random Twitter trolls, not doctors and other health professionals like they are for us non-famous Lyme patients. Two types of comments in response to Bieber’s, however, appalled me, both because of their content and the number of times they were echoed. The first were those calling “Lyme” a cover-up for substance abuse and “treatment” a euphemism for rehab. That disgusting assertion, by uninformed strangers, does a grave injustice to both the Lyme and addiction communities. Who do these people think they are? Would they have dared to make those comments if the diagnosis was cancer? Multiple sclerosis? ALS? What is it about Lyme that emboldens people to assume it’s any less real or serious than other illnesses? If someone shares a diagnosis, give them the benefit of the doubt that they are suffering in some way. If you have nothing nice — or accurate — to say, don’t say anything at all. If you have no knowledge about an issue, keep your mouth shut. End of story. Perhaps more disturbing, however, were the comments describing the diagnosis as “karma” or “payback” for the Bieber fandom’s purported mistreatment of Bieber’s ex, Selena Gomez, during her very public struggle with lupus. When Hailey Bieber took to her husband’s defense on Twitter, the malicious rejoicing escalated. For those who are trying to downplay the severity of Lyme disease. Please do your research and listen to the stories of people who have suffered with it for years. Making fun of and belittling a disease you don’t understand is never the way, all it takes is educating yourself.— Hailey Bieber (@haileybieber) January 8, 2020 What I had hoped would be a productive or at least informative discussion about Lyme disease and the incalculable suffering it causes quickly devolved into a petty catfight between warring fanbases. No one was even mentioning Lyme anymore, or lupus for that matter. These devastating illnesses were being casually cast around as mere weapons in an internet feud that can only be described as utterly, mind-numbingly stupid. I see a lot of people on here just creating lies and saying that they hope I lose in everything I do. Well I hope you all win. I hope everything you want in life happens for you. Regardless of how you feel about me I send back love.— Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) January 8, 2020 I know it’s just Twitter, and I am not easily offended, but after reading the threads, I felt drained and discouraged. It may just be Twitter, but it reflects the wider disenfranchisement and disregard faced by the Lyme community in general. I was deeply and personally hurt by the complete lack of sensitivity, compassion or basic respect shown these two devastating illnesses. The association with that pettiness threatens the credibility of Lyme disease. It demeans an illness for which there is already a lack of understanding and thus deprives its victims of compassion. It denigrates the constant and courageous struggle of people who are truly suffering. At the end of the day, I take the tweets with a grain of salt. I can’t reasonably expect random strangers to take Lyme as seriously as I do. However, I can’t help but wish people were either a little nicer or a little less vocal about their unkind opinions. As for the Biebers… Justin, I wish you the best with your treatment. It’s a long and difficult road; stay strong. Hailey, I applaud you for defending your man. A supportive partner is a key part of the fight.

Victoria Rio

Chronic Illness Challenges and Strengthens My Relationship

There is an unwelcome third party in my relationship with my significant other. It’s been there since the beginning, woven into our history, the scaffold upon which “we,” the couple, were built. It’s even responsible for bringing us together. It’s chronic illness. I met my boyfriend when I was home from college on medical leave. We grew up in the same hometown, but our paths had never crossed because he’s a little older and we went to different schools. We never would have met if I hadn’t been home that spring. We never would have met if I were healthy. It’s one of the reasons I wouldn’t wish my illness away, but learning gratitude for such a physically excruciating period of my life has required some serious mental jiu-jitsu. It’s psychologically confusing to remember one period as simultaneously the best and worst things that have ever happened to me. But, I’ve come to terms with it. My boyfriend and I began our relationship when I was at rock bottom, which actually turned out to be a good thing. For the first time in my life, I was stripped of my perfectionist facade and forced to be brutally vulnerable, to put myself out there: the good, the bad, the ugly (it was mostly bad and ugly at that time), and see how he would react. He loved me anyway: unconditionally and unquestioningly. That he was able to see through the sickness and love the person inside helped me to begin to do the same. For the first time since my diagnosis, I was able to learn self-compassion and self-love by looking at myself through his eyes. Furthermore, nothing shines the light on true character quite like chronic illness. My fight revealed my own strength and courage, as well as his. He proved to possess unwavering calm and caring. He never overreacts or minimizes my pain. He just quietly offers comfort and support. One night, I started sweating profusely out of the blue. He was initially and justifiably confused. When I explained I was having a hot flash from one of my medications, he nodded and left the room. Nervous and dejected, I thought he was just too uncomfortable to be around me. But he returned to the room, arms laden with the entire contents of his freezer. He told me to lie down, and covered me in various frozen veggies. He didn’t have an ice pack, he explained, but this would work too. In that moment of automatic caring and compassion, I knew I loved him… another relationship milestone borne of illness. Chronic illness is isolating, so it is difficult to navigate as a couple. My instinct when I feel sickest is to withdraw. When my boyfriend entered my life, I couldn’t just escape into myself. I had to learn to lean on him. He had to learn how to see my invisible illness. And as a consequence of this, our relationship became serious at an early stage. We had to talk about the future. We had to discuss the possible long-term complications of my three year treatment on my body, fertility, etc. We had to talk about the fact that I may never be truly “better.” I wanted full disclosure so he could make an informed decision about whether to stay or leave, whether he could handle the idea of potentially dealing with this for life. At the time, he was 24 and I 21… it’s a lot to handle at that age! But, he stayed, and we’ve grown individually and together in the past two years. We recently moved in and are truly starting our lives together. It’s exciting. It felt like we were moving on, past the horrors of the last couple of years. And then I had a flare up. Suddenly, my health plummeted, and my boyfriend became my round-the-clock nurse. He had seen me sick before, but it’s different living with it 24/7. In some ways, it felt like the beginning again: full exposure. It’s difficult learning to feel comfortable being sick in front of someone. I worried about how he would react not only to my physical symptoms, but also to the emotional roller coaster that is a byproduct of trying to function as an adult while on a debilitating treatment. It takes everything I have, physically and mentally, to get through the workday, and I have nothing left to bring home to him. I started to worry about the effect of his caregiving on our relationship. Every Saturday morning, instead of staying snuggled in bed, going to a leisurely brunch or hitting the beach, he gives me a 10-minute long injection… in my backside. * Sigh* How romantic. Part of me is angry. We’re too young for this! The “in sickness” part of the deal isn’t supposed to happen for a few more decades. Most of me, however, is grateful. Despite the challenges, this experience has been good for us as a couple. Yes, it takes our relationship to an uncomfortable place, but in doing so, chronic illness has deepened our love for and commitment to each other. Rather than fighting alone, I have someone to stand with me and defend my weak side. We’ve developed a watertight system for mutual support. We have learned to have fun together, even when times are tough. We know we can handle anything life throws at us. And that makes all of the butt shots and heartache, pain and frozen vegetables well worth it.

Victoria Rio

Fear of Tick-Borne Illness After Having Lyme Disease

Earlier this summer, I pulled a tick off my significant other. For many people, that would have been the beginning and end of the story. For them, it’s not a particularly noteworthy event. For us, however, it was surprisingly traumatic. Despite having been diagnosed with two tick-borne illnesses almost seven years ago, I had never actually seen a tick before. What do you do when you’re face-to-face with a tiny thing, way smaller than a fingernail, but nevertheless a thing that ruined your life for a period of time? A thing that stole your youth and energy, a thing that continues to haunt you, a thing from which you may never be fully healed. I freaked out. I am usually a great person to have around in a crisis. I don’t overreact; I just zone everything out and do what needs to be done. I’m the person who comforts others in a crisis situation. This time, not so much. I removed the tick, then crumpled onto the carpet. Shaking and sobbing, I couldn’t understand my visceral reaction. I felt a disorienting sense of distance and lack of control, like I was watching my reaction but was powerless to stop it. The physical and mental anguish of the past seven years washed over my body in an instant, prompting an unforgiving torrent of emotion. That little thing that had nearly broken me, time and time again, was staring me in the face, legs still twitching, slowly gorging itself on the blood of someone I love. The thought of him going through what I had been through for all those years turned my blood cold. I couldn’t handle the thought of repeating my experience in the role of caregiver. The thought of having to watch him struggle to crawl his way back only to be beaten down again, day after day, year after year, was too much for me. From the beginning, Lyme was woven into the fabric of our relationship; we met while I was on medical leave from college. From then on, Lyme tested us as a couple, dictating what we could and couldn’t do and fast-tracking us to serious commitment. When I met him, I was scraping rock bottom in terms of my physical health. Even now, when we are starting our life together, he has to give me weekly injections of antibiotics. These experiences have tested and ultimately strengthened our bond, but sometimes it feels like we just can’t escape the relentless crush of chronic illness. By the time we reach the surface to take a breath, the next wave is already crashing down. It’s exhausting, but we’ve learned to live with it; rather, to live around it. He has been my rock, my strength, my caregiver. And I am still too physically ill to care for us both. The thought of him getting sick shook the fragile balance we have achieved between life and Lyme to the core. It was unsettling. We had the tick tested and it came back disease-free. However, this experience made me think about my journey with illness in a different way. It forced me to realize the traumatic component inherent to life with chronic illness: the lingering scars left by the doubt of many medical professionals, the endless trips to specialist after specialist, the long months of bed rest, the harsh effects of long-term treatment, the physical and emotional isolation from peers, the crushing fear that I was too broken to be loved. It made me pause and truly respect the seriousness of everything I’ve been through. I had to be kinder to myself, to acknowledge my trauma. Now, maybe, healing can begin.

Community Voices

Anxiety and Nausea?

Does anybody else get super nauseous all the time when they’re super stressed and failing to keep their anxiety in check? I thought it was something about my diet that was causing to feel so sick all the time, but now I’m realizing it may be the anxiety.

If so, any suggestions for how to deal with it?? Thank you!! #Anxiety #nausea

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Victoria Rio

Questioning Your Identity With Chronic Illness

I developed chronic conditions in adolescence, a crucial period in identity development. Turbulent to begin with, my being sick didn’t help in trying to navigate the search for who I was. My illness became my identity. For the past six and a half years, my life has largely revolved around my symptoms. They dictated how many classes I could take and hours I could work, narrowed my social opportunities, and generally limited my activities to what I could tolerate. Day by day, hour by hour, my plans shaped themselves around my symptoms. I was passive, playing second fiddle to my illness. In the past year, my symptoms have abated to a point at which I can pretty much function through them. I can make it through the work day with migraines, fatigue, brain fog, pain, etc. I’ve learned to accept, manage and work around my limitations. I’m still sick, but I’m grounded, functioning and hopeful. One thought persistently nags at the back of my mind, though: Who am I without my illness? My identity as a young woman, my personal goals and professional aspirations have all been built on the  scaffold of chronic illness. I was the “very sick girl.” Now I’m the “functioning but sick girl,” and someday I might be the “former sick girl.” On some level, I am terrified of letting go of that identity. What would remain? I am torn between the need, on one hand, to pretend to the world and myself that I am healthy and capable, and on the other hand, to justify to myself and others that I really am sick, unlike other employees. I feel conflicted about accepting credit for my accomplishments because of the incredible amount of help and support I’ve received along the way. I simultaneously crave to be normal and special, to blend in and hide, and to stand out. I want my illness to be acknowledged, but don’t want to be judged for it. I’m terrified of being sick, but afraid of being too healthy. Who am I without my illness? I’ve had to make peace with the fact that I will never know the answer. I’ve had to accept that my identity is irrevocably intertwined with my chronic illness. I’ve had to mourn the life I could have had and learn to appreciate the unique opportunities afforded by my experience. My illness shaped my career aspirations, endowing me with an empathetic passion for helping children and families cope with chronic medical conditions. It gave me perspective and determination. I am not my illness, but I am me because of it.

Victoria Rio

Why I Am Grateful for My Chronic Illness

Let me make something explicit: chronic illness is terrible, and I would never wish it on someone else, not even my worst enemy. For over six years, neurological Lyme disease and Bartonella, and the resulting fibromyalgia, migraines, etc., have wreaked havoc on my life. They took my mind, my body and my youth. They confined me to bed for months while the rest of the world moved on. They destroyed my parents’ peace of mind and tortured anyone who worried about me. After two and a half years of a grueling intensive treatment, I am much better, but my chronic conditions still sap my energy and ability to concentrate and cause debilitating pain. Chronic illness is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. But it also might be the best. Here’s why: 1. Chronic illness gave me perspective. I am grateful for my parents, who have sacrificed everything to take care of me, and the friends who have stood by me through everything and loved me at my worst. The daily battle with chronic illness has given me a maturity that it will take decades for some of my peers to develop. I don’t care about being seen with the right people at the right parties. I’m not obsessed with having the most “friends” or the most “fun.” I’d rather spend time with family than at a frat party. Overall, I just care more about different things than many other 22-year-olds. That’s not to denigrate their priorities or say that mine are better; they’re just different. I’ve been sick. I’ve felt robbed of youth, and I’ve lost people along the way who really didn’t want to deal with the drag of having a sick person in their friend group. I’ve had to take a step back from the “typical” college experience, which has changed my perspective to a wide-lens view of my life, in which my priorities are cultivating relationships and meaning. 2. Chronic illness gave me purpose. Experiencing an ongoing, invisible battle has inspired an empathetic passion to help kids and families battling chronic medical conditions. I’ve found purpose in my own struggle with chronic illness as preparation for a career in which I can use my experience to help others with similar struggles. This overarching pursuit has helped me see the light in several grueling semesters. With frequent migraines, it’s really hard to get out of bed, let alone motivate myself to go to work or do homework. But even on my most difficult days, I love my part-time research job at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where I am surrounded by like-minded people and feel like I’m playing a tiny part in stemming pediatric illness. Furthermore, trying to connect current school projects back to this overarching goal of peds psych (i.e. by doing a behavioral science project on coping in chronic illness) helps me find meaning and motivation in the mundane slog of schoolwork on my most symptomatic days. 3. Chronic illness gave me a partner. If I hadn’t been home on medical leave from school, I wouldn’t have met my boyfriend, whose support has become an important part of my recovery. It’s really hard to need to depend on someone due to illness. Realizing that someone else could see through the sickness and love the person inside allowed me to experience self-compassion again. Realizing the closeness and trust that result from the vulnerability of being sick in front of a non-family member has freed me from the prison of trying to suppress my symptoms under a facade of functionality. It’s OK to not have it together all the time. Accepting this truth has helped me keep it together in the situations where I can’t afford to break down. 4. Chronic illness gave me perseverance. For someone battling chronic illness, every day is a struggle, sometimes every hour. You have to be tough, resilient, fight through every day. Some things that aren’t challenging for other people are daunting tasks to me, like doing a reading assignment for class. Setbacks are common and constant, like experiencing a flare-up after a period of relatively decent health. You can’t give in, can’t give up. Chronic illness, in short, has made me a tough cookie. At first I felt weak. Sometimes other people perceive me as weak when they don’t understand my illness. I’ve been called a “delicate flower,” but then I realized that coping with this adversity requires so much more physical and character strength than many people I know possess. I take pride in this strength. 5. Chronic illness gave me peace. “…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” The premise of the Serenity Prayer resides at the core of the secular field’s cognitive behavioral therapy and cognitive reframing. The worst part of chronic illness, for me, is the struggle for control… feeling like my body, my life, are out of my hands. In order to survive and cope, I had to learn to relinquish control: accept that I can’t change what happens to my body but realize that I can change how I react to it. This attitude relieves some of the burden of stress and worry and allows me to find more joy and gratitude in my life, even when things, for lack of a better word, suck. I struggle with this every day but will never give up. I would wish away my chronic illness for the strain that it has put on others in my life: physical, financial and emotional. However, for myself, if I had the choice to go back and do it over without ever having been sick, I wouldn’t. Because without all of the suffering, I wouldn’t have gotten any of the good.