Finding Positives In The Midst Of Chronic Illness

It can be hard not to focus on how things haven’t turned out the way you had in mind. Most would agree that it is easy to list off the things you have missed out on or didn’t get to do because you got sick. But have you ever really thought about the positive things that have happened because of your illness? The opportunities you have gotten because of your illness? The relationships you’ve built because of your illness? Right about now you are probably thinking This girl has totally and completely lost her mind. And you may be wondering what has gotten into me. But I am serious: Let’s try to change our mindset and start thinking and focusing on the positive aspects of our lives, even our lives that contain illness.

I will be the first to admit how easy it is to be a negative Nancy after living with a chronic illness for a long time. It’s easy to look back and play the what-if game. What if I hadn’t gotten gotten sick, would I be married, have kids, be in a different job, own my own home? It is easy to focus on the jobs you lost, the promotions you didn’t get, the goals you feel like you will never reach, or the relationships that have failed. But as my dad has told me so many times over my lifetime, “You could what-if yourself to death.” You can always sit and contemplate where you would have gone or where you might be. But honestly, does it make things any better? No because it can’t change the past. And as cliche as it may sound, you can only worry about the present and the future because you can’t change the past.

I do believe that there is a process of mourning or grieving that comes with all life changes including life-altering medical news. I think that grieving is healthy. We need to grieve the life we had and maybe even mourn the dreams we had that are no longer feasible. As we go through that process we may hit all the stages and think we are done, or we may go back and forth between a couple stages. And there is nothing wrong with that.  At first we may be in denial, thinking that the doctors are wrong and we will just wake up healthy tomorrow. Then comes the anger for why this happened to us, and questioning what did we do to deserve this.  We may try to bargain, thinking and praying that if we can just have ”X” that we will gladly do ”Y.” It may not help in the long run but it makes you feel better at the time.  And it’s okay to cycle through these stages and go back and forth. There is no wrong or right way to grieve, but it is essential to be able to move on with your life.

I know there will be people who disagree and say that you should never change or let go of your dreams because you don’t know what will happen. But, we have to be sensible and honest with ourselves. When you have a chronic illness it does change things. And while one could argue that you never know what the future will hold, we do know what the future won’t hold.  Like for me, I know that there are some things in my future that won’t happen. Like carrying my own child. I will hopefully have children through adoption, but my body will never be able to carry a baby. This was my lifelong dream and I have had to grieve that loss. There are times when I feel like I am okay with this and other times I am just downright sad and angry. For me grieving isn’t negative, in fact it imperative in order to be able to move on.

It’s easy to think that there could never be any positive in this life I’m living. And I get that. But if you really look at your life you can find some positives, you may just have to do some real reflection to find them. For me, there are a LOT of negatives. For instance losing my career, having to drop out of my Masters program, or losing my independence. But in the midst of all those things I have found some of my best friends, I have gained a better relationship with my family, and found a “job” I never would have found if all the bad things hadn’t happened.

Had I not gotten sick I wouldn’t have ever started my support group or started writing. And even though I do mourn the life and relationships I had prior to getting sick, I am also so thankful for the life and relationships I have now. While it may not be the life I envisioned for myself, I am so lucky to be alive, to have such amazing family support and to have such amazing people in my life.

Most of all I am grateful for the journey. I have truly found myself, who I am and who I hope to be. And I found that all because of my poor health. There is no way of knowing just who I would have been or where my life would have taken me had I not gotten sick. Even though I will probably never understand why these things happened I can say my life is better because of it.