Chronic pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, migraines, anxiety, depression, IBS, endometriosis, diabetes, the list goes on forever. Chronic illness is real, and a very real impediment to living a positive life. If you struggle with one of these — or the many more that are out there — you know that often life is neither “The glass is half full, or half empty” but instead the glass feels empty altogether.
Most of you who know me, or have followed my story, know I suffer from chronic illness. The last year or so has seen the worst of it and has left me unable to work a regular job. If you, like me, have or are currently suffering a chronic illness, you have probably found it can be hard and sometimes impossible to feel positive about anything. There is an almost constant pressure from those around us to be cheery and happy.
Staying positive when all you want to do is stay in bed is a complicated situation. Being positive all the time when you are constantly ill is unrealistic and unhealthy. What is realistic though, is finding ways through the pain to find joy in something that the average person would find menial. Like, guess what!? I made my bed today, or I cleaned the house, or I made it to the grocery store and back. Sometimes in life, the pain we suffer helps to remind us not to take even the smallest things for granted. It sounds so easy on the surface, but it’s so, so hard.
This is something I deal with on a daily basis. As I’m beginning my journey to a more positive me, I’ve started making lists of things that get me through the day, the month, the year, and keep me going strong. I want to share some of those things with you. Hopefully, some of these will resonate with you as you work through your own personal journey.
Life is so much more than just coping:
For years I would wake up, and tell myself, “Just get through today, tomorrow might be better.” Doing that not only made me depressed and less likely to even try that day, but also made me miss out on so much in life. I lost friends, I quit talking, quit creating, and quit being me — I became my illness. I wallowed in it, gave up my dreams, and sunk into “coping mode”. Sometimes coping mode is okay. Just stay there for a day, don’t unpack and move in. Instead, wake up and set a goal for that day. Doesn’t matter what the goal may be, or how small it is. Just set one and do your best to achieve it. It’s incredible how good it feels to accomplish something you set your mind to. What I do is, the night before I think of something (E.X. tomorrow, you are going to research blog topics and join a blogging webinar) that is achievable even at my sickest, and I wake up and do my best at it.
Let go of control:
It’s so easy to overwhelm yourself in the unexpected life that comes with chronic illness and dwell on how to control it. But guess what, you can’t. It happens on its own, it comes and goes in waves, you can’t change that. And it’s okay. Once you realize that your illness is not your fault, and it’s out of your control, it’s much easier to change your mindset about being sick. Stop trying to control what is beyond you. Instead, control what is within your reach. For me, coming up with recipes, researching new foods that I can eat and can cook makes me really excited. I choose to do that instead of focusing on why I can’t eat what other people do, and how to make myself be able to eat whatever I want — because I can’t even if I tried. Find something to change in your life that is in your power, and make it a big part of your day instead of focusing on what you can’t change about your illness.
Find a support group or create your own:
Six months ago, I would have laughed at this idea and said, “I don’t want to talk about my illness, I just want to be left alone”. That’s 100% what I thought until a support group of sorts dropped into my lap one day. That group has made all the difference. Having people around you, who know what you suffer (not just from an outsider’s understanding, but have suffered like you), and knowing that they support you and you support them, forces you into a more positive mindset. Not only having people to fall back on but also having people fall back on you makes you rethink the way you live and act through your suffering. Now your actions affect not only the way you feel but also the way others feel about chronic suffering.
Set Goals and work toward them:
This one is similar to step one, but still really important in and of itself. Connect with your inner self, who you are and what you are passionate about. Think about a dream that you would go after if illness weren’t in your way. Now grab that dream (tweak it if necessary) and set goals toward getting yourself there! Take your weaknesses and let them cultivate you to your fullest potential. Surround yourself with people, books, objects, etc that will help encourage you to do you and to make your dream a reality. Maybe your goal is just to be a better stay at home mom or to find ways to work from home, or to spread awareness about your illness and so on. No matter what your end goal is, make small daily goals to get you there and don’t give up!
Lastly, remember you are human!
Sitting around all day searching for why this happened to you, won’t get you anywhere. Why did it happen? Because you are human, you were born into a flawed world, with a flawed body. Sure having a diagnosis can be nice, but it doesn’t make it go away. It’s so easy to sit in bed and put a big “disabled” label on yourself, and just stop there. Accepting that you are human, that this happened, that it “is what it is” can sometimes allow you to breathe a much-needed sigh of relief. Your illness isn’t you and you are not your illness, it’s a part but not the whole. You didn’t wake up and choose to have it, it happened and now you can choose to accept it and LIVE through it instead of just being ALIVE with it.
Life is hard, sometimes really hard. Trust me, I know. There are days that I wake up and want to cry because I just can’t imagine how I’ll be able to accomplish things that day. It’s so hard, and it’s a heavy burden to bear. But always remember “You have survived 100% of your worst days up until now”, what’s stopping you here? Be strong, fight through, accomplish and appreciate the small things, and remember every day is a chance to start fresh and try again.