During the five years of being chronically ill to the point of having to change my life to revolve around my illness, I have tried to keep my spirits up. I’ll readily admit I’m naturally more of an Eeyore, but I also know that having a positive outlook can have a huge impact on one’s quality of life. So I try to train my brain to be on the lookout for silver linings; for the beautiful amidst the ugly.
Of course, I can’t speak for everyone with ME, everyone with fibro, or everyone with other chronic illnesses. These are just the shiniest of the silver linings that I have discovered personally. Yes, there is a lot of bad along with this good, but that’s a subject for another time. For now, I want to highlight the positives.
1. You Become More In Tune With Your Body
I, for example, have learned that I am quite sensitive to nearly all medications, even more than my small frame would account for. There is a certain cold feeling I get in my stomach which is the warning for a bout of coldsweats and vomiting coming. While I used to drink lots of caffeine and couldn’t get through an afternoon without some kind of energy dose, I now drink black tea in the morning, and rarely anything beyond that. My body felt noticeably cleaner and fresher after I made the switch, and again when I became vegetarian. You learn to listen harder to the signals your body gives you and take them more seriously.
2. You Learn Who The True Friends In Your Life Are
After the fifth time in a row of my having to reschedule an outing due to the unpredictable whims of my body, most people would stop trying to make the outing happen. I have been extremely fortunate to have wonderful people in my life who are as understanding about my forced flakiness as anyone who doesn’t have a chronic illness could be. They know by now that evening events, large crowds and physical exertion are especially hard for me, but they continue to invite me to dinners and parties, always letting me know that it’s ok if I’m not up to it. I love them for continuing to invite me, even when I have to say no 90% of the time, but even more for not holding it against me.
3. You Come To Terms With Your Mortality
Everybody dies. That is an unavoidable fact. I’ve found that I, along with many of my chronically ill peers, have given our lifespans much greater thought than our healthy counterparts. Whether our disease is something known to shorten your lifespan or whether it’s a roll of the dice, we are generally able to come to peace with the knowledge we won’t be around forever much earlier in our lives than is typical. This can even lead to what I call The Walter White Effect, which essentially says that when you have faced the fact that your life may not be as long as you had once believed, you are motivated into working much harder in the present. It’s true, any of us could go at any time in an untold number of ways. But there seems to be a quieter acceptance of this inevitable fate when you’ve had your body occupied with chronic illness for a long time.
4. You Life Distills Into The Most Important Components
I have days when there are only a couple hours (often scattered through the whole day) when I can actually get anything done. Usually I’m able to get a little bit more done than that, and it helps that much of what I do can be done laying in bed with my laptop, but if you only had three or four hours to accomplish anything, what would you use that time for? Lunch with friends? Taking care of your pets? Showering? Taking photos? Making love? While chronic illness robs you of so much time, it also forces you to look long and hard at each of the things you do choose to engage in. I won’t, for example, spend time editing photos which I’m less than satisfied with. Which activities you choose to keep can say a lot about what’s truly important to you.
5. You Look At The Big Questions
Can you believe in a god who would allow you to live your life so sick with no cure? Would that strengthen your faith or wipe any trace of it from your life? What kind of legacy will you leave behind? If you’re too sick to work and thus always short on cash, how do you define success in your life when society places so much emphasis on status, power and wealth? If you, like most of the chronically ill, had to scrap your original plans for what you wanted to be when you grew up, how will you find meaning in the life you’re given? What is the meaning of life when that life is often confined to a single room?
This is, of course, an extremely subjective round-up, based mainly on my own experiences. What will my distilled, concentrated life look like? What causes will I champion and where will my energy reserves go? Where will yours? Chronic illness tends to create mini philosophers, whether we will have it or not. And while I will never have all the answers, the questions are still worth pondering.