So many terrible things happen when you have a chronic illness. There are hours, sometimes even weeks and months, which go by before a calm spell hits. At that time, with the chaos of survival temporarily quieted, we have a chance to appreciate the lessons we learned during the bad days. Those small servings of good stuff can help us find reasons to push through and keep fighting.
The primary lesson learned from dealing with a chronic illness is patience. It is inevitable. You can only push yourself so hard when your body is broken. Developing patience with yourself is so important because it’s one of the skills that ushers in acceptance of the new normal.
That patience is also applied to the world at large. When you arrive on time at the doctor’s office, only to wait for an hour to be seen. Taking those extra minutes in the grocery car park to find a closer space so you don’t have to walk as far. Describing your limitations, for the 100th time, to a person who just cannot comprehend invisible diseases. Every interaction benefits from patience.
I didn’t use to be patient. I was outwardly kind but inwardly frustrated whenever my expectations didn’t match reality. As that was forced to change, I felt a shift. My internal dialogue no longer ping ponged between anger and exasperation. Instead, I saw the humor in our collective situation. We are all operating on the schedule that we think is best. No one was intentionally delaying me (well maybe not NO one). I started to go with the flow and reserved my frustration for situations and people that actually deserved that negativity.
Empathy is another lesson that has its roots in suffering. I didn’t know where my empathy biases were before I became sick. Seeing a seemingly able-bodied person sitting on a crowded bus elicited an unconscious snicker. Working with a colleague, who had to leave because of a migraine, left me gossiping with others about their lack of fortitude.
Now, my first response to someone else’s problems is empathy. I wonder what unseen issues they face and how I can show them support in the situation. Receiving so many harsh comments and unkind looks over these last few years has left me deeply aware of how complicated each person’s journey through life is at any given moment. My chronic illnesses have taught me to treat people with unabashed kindness and empathy because that might be the small act that gets them through the day.
There are so many good traits that I have developed because of my bent and broken body. My determination and inner strength gets tested daily. I persevere through difficult moments and notice the perseverance of others. I feel less jealousy and more happiness for the people around me who are able-bodied. I balance the guilt of not being sick enough with the knowledge that I am making it through my day at my highest capacity.
I still have many bad days. Those days when my thoughts are dangerous, negative, and unhealthy. But today, right now, I choose to focus on the good stuff. It is rare when we get to take a breath free of pain or experience a moment without suffering. But, when those bright spots do occur, I use all my mental strength to acknowledge the unexpected benefits these chronic diseases have unlocked. Most of all, I give thanks that I can continue to learn how to be better and how to further embrace my body in this world.