Unfortunately, I am quite familiar with illness and the toll it can take on the body and mind. Halfway through high school I started to experience severe stomach issues that landed me in the emergency room several times. After years of doctor’s appointments, procedures, and being hospital-homebound for months at a time, I am immensely thankful to say that my health today is no longer a debilitating obstacle in my life. Today I can celebrate a little over a full year that I have consistently felt good and not had any major issues. But even though I have been on the upward path, I will never forget the unique and intense emotional pain caused by physical illness. On days when I was so sick, I couldn’t see an end in sight, I promised myself that if I got better, I would never take my health for granted and all the opportunities that being healthy affords me. With that being said, I want to share a list of reminders for anyone who may be struggling with the pain, uncertainty, or disability of chronic health issues.
People don’t love you for your health
When I was at my sickest, I pushed away friends and family members who I needed most. I distanced myself from the most valued people in my life due to an overwhelming feeling of guilt. I felt that being ill did not allow me to be the compassionate, giving, and available person my friends deserved and always knew me to be. My health made it hard for me to stick to plans. I felt like I had become a burden to those around me, and eventually stopped making commitments all together. And once I started to get better, I felt a lot of fear entering new friendships and relationships. I feared that my health would not allow me to sustain new and intimate connections, which would only lead to more pain. Around the time my health finally started to improve, I found myself in a new relationship. Even though my health was improving, the first several months of the relationship I experienced fear over my health issues ruining one of the most incredible connections I have made to date. It wasn’t until my therapist assured me “people don’t love you for your health,” that I finally started to let go of the fear of my health issues hurting relationships with the people I love.
You are free because you have agency over your mind
My health issues kept me at home when I wanted to be outside, in bed when I wanted to be in school, resting when I wanted to work; severe health issues have the power to take strong control over your life. Physical illness is hard, because while your mind might be eager to pursue new opportunities, your body is aching and there’s nothing you can do. Being debilitated with no end in sight was depressing, so it became important for me to remind myself that I did still have power over my life. I reminded myself that I have control of my mindset, which helped me to cultivate my own sense of freedom. I started to write more, focus on learning new things, and kept a gratitude journal. Small things like these helped me to feel a sense of control and freedom that I needed.
If you are imagining the worst, imagine the best too
I am not going to tell you to get rid of all negative thoughts. It is incredibly difficult to not worry about your illness while you are experiencing it. But I will say, make this a rule for yourself: if you are going to spend time imagining the worst possible outcome of your situation, then spend an equal amount of time imagining the best possible outcome of your situation. What kept me going when I was debilitatingly sick for weeks at a time, was knowing I would get better. Even if it is hard, practice knowing that you will get better. Don’t question this. You will get better. You will get better. You will get better. The most helpful thing I did when I was sick was to imagine all the things I would do once I was better and all the goals I wanted to accomplish. I thought of how happy I would be to be healthy. Imagine the best.
Take things one day at a time
Taking things one day at a time is so important yet so much harder than it sounds. When illness is affecting you repeatedly day after day, thinking about the time it may take to get better can be overwhelming and anxiety inducing. Try not to let your mind get to that place of “what ifs,” where the gears of concern are just spinning faster and faster in your head. The reality is, stress almost always exacerbates illness, which is why managing illness-related stress is so crucial. Set a boundary with yourself and try not to think about the challenges you may face in the future. Try to only focus on challenges you face in the present moment. Focus on each day, one at a time. Doing this will also help you to feel more control over your circumstances.
Open up to and connect with others
When my health issues first started, I did not want to open up to anyone. I kept my health private and it was not something I ever wanted to bring up in conversation. But as time went on and my health issues became my reality, I found myself more willing to open up to others about what I was struggling with. Through being open and vulnerable in conversation, I quickly learned that I was not alone, and that there are so many people who were struggling with circumstances like mine. Knowing I was not alone gave me comfort and helped ease a lot of the uncertainty I felt. I urge you to be vulnerable about your challenges, because chances are, you will feel better and so will the person you are talking to. Opening up can also lead you to find support within your community that you didn’t even know existed.
These are the five reminders that helped me the most when I was sick, and I wish I had someone who could have told me these things years ago. If you are struggling with chronic or prolonged illness, I hope these reminders can offer you some support, comfort, and reassurance.