Having a chronic illness opens you up to a whole new range of experiences and takes you along an entirely different path in life. You see the world in a completely different light. On this journey you start to learn what things are the most valuable to you in life, you uncover who your true friends really are, and you begin to discover things about yourself that you might not have been aware of before you fell ill. Although having a chronic illness is generally a negative experience, there are so many life lessons which you learn along the way:
- Gratitude is everything – When you fall ill, everything gets put into perspective. You become grateful for so many more things, as you know what it feels like when something you took for granted is taken away from you i.e. your health. Therefore, you become more aware of all the things you do still have, for example, having a garden and being able to spend time outside, or still having the use of your legs to be able to walk outside and around the house, or for your family and friends who have been supportive towards your situation. Always remember to never take anything for granted, because you never know what will happen in life, let alone in the next 10 minutes, so make the most of everything you have while you still have it. To read more on “How to Practise Gratitude”, click here.
- Negativity is exhausting – If you imagine that your energy is like a phone battery, and if you’re lucky it starts off each day at 100%, what you might not realise is that negativity drains that battery 10x faster than anything else. Energy can diminish through things such as arguments, worrying about what others think, or ruminating about your illness or something that happened yesterday. As someone who starts off the day with only a 20-30% battery charge, I therefore notice just how much more negativity affect’s my energy levels. This isn’t to say negativity drains people with a chronic illness faster than healthy people, it is simply saying we notice it so much more! Therefore, we can tell you, just how draining it is!!
- Looking after your health is so important – Things such as eating well, getting fresh air, getting a good night’s sleep, and exercising, are all activities someone who is chronically ill will often try to nurture, in an attempt to look after their health and recovery. Yet when we are well, we often take our health for granted, and might abuse our health through forms of drinking or drugs. Although this is often deemed as normal or okay for a healthy person, for someone who is chronically ill, our health becomes so important to us that we cannot begin to imagine why when someone who is healthy they would not look after and enjoy their healthy body.
- We cannot control everything that happens in life – This has probably been one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt from being chronically ill. I cannot change the fact I fell ill, nor can I change the fact that I’m still ill. I can aid my body towards recovery to the best of my ability, but I cannot make myself better. If we all had that sort of control over our bodies, then no one would ever be ill, because everyone would choose to get better! Although it is frustrating, we need to focus on what we can do and not feel guilty or worry about all the things we can’t do. The best thing is to try to learn to accept situations you can do nothing about, and focus on the only thing we can control in our life which is our attitude and our thoughts at any given moment.
- Spend your energy on the most important things in your life – When you have limited energy, you only have a few activities you can do each day as you do not have enough energy to do everything. This means often you end up prioritising what things are most important to you and what activities you will enjoy the most, making each day more enjoyable!
- It’s okay to say “no” – Saying “no” to people isn’t selfish, it is necessary for looking after yourself. It’s okay to cancel a commitment. It’s okay to not answer that phone call. It’s okay to take a day off. When you become ill, you learn that sometimes you have to say no to a lot of things to give yourself the best chance of getting better or not relapsing. You must put your health first! But you don’t need to be ill to learn this, you can be a completely healthy person and still recognise that we all need to put ourselves and our health first, because often when we don’t, that’s when the problems start.
- Realise who your true friends are – All relationships in life can be hard at times, but they can become especially hard when you’re chronically ill as the dynamics of your relationships will change. You might have people who you thought were your “friends” disappear as soon as you fell ill, or you might find some people have been a lot less supportive and kind towards you than you would have hoped. The people who you can truly trust to stick around with you through everything are some of the best people life has to offer. If anything, your illness becomes an opportunity to learn who your true friends really are, because they are the only people worth having in your life. To read more on, “18 Ways to Help You Cope with Relationships When Chronically ill”, click here.
- Make the most of the small things – When you’re stuck at home or in hospital due to ill-health, the small things in life really do become the big things. For example, I’ve been housebound now for 7 months due to my fatigue, so for me when it’s sunny, being able to go and sit outside in the garden makes my day so much happier and brighter! Or the fact that I can only wash my hair every 7-10 days, again due to fatigue, means when I do wash it I’m left feeling elated for the whole day!
- Give yourself time to reflect – So many of us are moving at such a fast pace through life that we sometimes forget to stop and think. When you become ill, you have a lot of time to reflect on life and all the decisions you make and have made! But imagine how much happier we would be if we all took the time out to reflect? For example, before I fell ill, I was applying to do a degree at university without really giving myself time to give it much thought, and looking back now I can see that the degree I had chosen would not have been the right degree for me! Sometimes you just need to take the time out to pause and think.
- Social media isn’t reality – As someone who has begun to use social media a lot since falling ill, it has made me realise just how far from reality our lives are compared to the ones portrayed online. I know a lot of people in the same situation as myself who don’t like posting pictures that reflect their physical illness or like to talk about their symptoms and instead like to post and re-post pictures from a time when we LOOKED healthier. A lot of people confuse this and think we might now be “recovered”, but knowing that this is far from the truth gives us insight into just how many other people’s lives are not a truthful portrayal of their existence on social media. Therefore remember not to take anything at face value when using social media.
- Stop doing things that aren’t worth your energy – As aforementioned with the idea that our energy is like a phone battery, when you have so little energy, you simply can’t afford to waste any of that energy on worrying about the little things. For example, I no longer have the energy for pointless or negative relationships, nor do I have the time to constantly worry about how many likes I get on social media or what people think, because it simply isn’t worth the energy!
- It’s okay to ask for help – In our society today, a lot of us struggle with the concept of asking others for help. But when you fall ill, this becomes vital, as you have to learn to rely on others for help. But all of us at some stage in our lives will need help from others, whether it is from a friend, family member, councillor, or health professional, so always remember that it’s okay to ask for help, and remember that if you do ask a family or friend for help, one day they might also need the favour returned. Furthermore, asking for help doesn’t make you any less strong, if anything it makes you intuitive, as you are recognising when times become too hard for you to cope on your own.
- Learn to enjoy your own company – Before I fell ill, I absolutely hated my own company. I was always trying to distract myself and surround myself with other people to avoid being alone. When I fell ill, I was literally forced to spend hours alone by myself. Although initially it was hard, eventually I learnt that I was going to have to start to enjoy my own company because otherwise I would simply become miserable! I have now reached a point where I really enjoy my alone time, and I no longer look to others to fill the gap. To read more about “20 Ways to Help You Cope with Loneliness”, click here.
- You know yourself and your body better than anyone – No matter what the doctors say, or what your family and friends say, they cannot judge what your body can or can’t do better than you! You know your limits, you know what you’re capable of better than anyone else, and you alone are the one who should be in control of that.
- Avoid judging others – When you suffer with an invisible illness, you might often receive judgement from others because there is this perception some people have that you need to “look” ill to be ill. Because of this judgement from others, you become less likely to judge people who park in a disabled spot without the visible appearance of a disability, as you have that insight of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the judgment. We need to start to change this perception of what we “think” an invisible illness should look like, and start to realise that 95% of people who have an invisible illness often look well on the outside. By showing a little more kindness and a little less judgement to all those we meet, we can help change this perception.
- Try new activities – Although being ill means you don’t often have the energy to do many “normal” things, such as going out with friends, going on holiday, or playing sport, you might search for new activities that suit your new energy levels. For example, this might be painting, learning the piano, crafts, or as for me, blogging! In a way, you can pick up so many more hobbies and try out activities that you probably wouldn’t have tried had you not fallen ill.
I hope you enjoyed this post and it can help you see chronic illness in a different light. No matter what journey you may be on, there are always so many hidden lessons to learn, even if sometimes you have to look a bit harder to find them.
Metta, E xx