I have always believed that we can either allow our circumstances to shape us or we can shape ourselves to better deal with our circumstances. There are few experiences in life that we cannot learn from — we just have to be willing to learn those lessons. The latter is quite a difficult skill to acquire, but we can gather courage from experience and reinforcement.
The first lesson I learned was the importance of taking things slowly. Before falling ill, I made sure I was always busy and never took the time to rest or reflect. I just kept going. Life happened to me. I was not consciously living it. Surviving the battles with my health has imparted the value of not only living life but appreciating it. I have started taking things slow and living in the moment. Being forced to stop my whole life, drop out of university and spend months recovering taught me the importance of experiencing the things that happened to me.
Taking time to process the great emotions that come with falling ill did not make me weak; it made me wiser. It taught me how to be more empathetic which also stressed the power in caring for others as opposed to being cared for. Upon my diagnosis, before people realized how permanent my illness would be (I had thought the word “chronic” in chronic illness would cover that), I was flooded with care. It was easy to feel helpless and immediately be helped. As time moved on, my health showed me how frustrating it feels to be forced into a situation where I needed care all of the time due to my weak muscles. I realized how empowering it feels to be able to help others instead of always being the person who is receiving help. I started living a life where I helped others, in the ways my body allowed me to, to repay the kindness that has been shown to me.
The third lesson it taught me was the importance of learning to stand up for myself. Living life with an invisible illness is not for the faint-hearted. As someone who has always struggled with social anxiety, standing up for myself was not one of my strong suits. However, when illness disrupts your life, you are put into various situations where you need your voice to be heard. I had to defend my right to use disabled parking to rude people unaware of the suffering of those with diseases not visible to the untrained eye. I had to ensure doctors heard me when I said no to certain treatments due to their severe side effects. I had to stand up for myself by letting go of toxic relationships unsustainable in my new life of poor health.
Chronic illness may have appeared in my life without any warning or invitation, but I would not say that it only highlighted the negative parts of life. If anything it made me value the positive aspects of life even more. Never stop looking for reasons to fight. Life is beautiful.
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