Whether you are currently battling a chronic illness or have battled one in the past, you know that it’s not easy- at all. Between doctor’s appointments, hospital stays, and countless medicines, sometimes it feels like your world is turned upside down. Having battled a chronic illness recently that resulted in a major surgery to save my life this summer, I can relate to the rollercoaster of emotions that come with having a chronic illness. With that being said, sometimes even through the pain, tears, and struggles, the most difficult of times teach us the biggest lessons in life. Here are 6 life lessons that having a chronic illness taught me:
1) It Taught Me Humility
When you’re sick, suddenly the superficial things in life don’t matter anymore. Having a chronic illness taught me that no one cares about your wrinkled pajamas while you sit in the ER or your makeup-free face and wild hair. It taught me that the hours we spend focused on picking out outfits, doing our makeup, and perfecting our hair aren’t that important. No one is judging you, they are there to help you.
2) It Taught Me to Appreciate the Small Things
When suddenly the life that you are used to is flipped upside down by an illness, you begin to appreciate the small things in life. You appreciate the days when you feel good because tomorrow could be a bad day. You appreciate sitting outside in silence and taking in the scenery because who knows when you’ll be in a hospital bed again. You appreciate that slice of pizza because two months ago you could barely eat. You appreciate the run that makes your lungs burn and your muscles ache because there was a time when you could hardly walk. You appreciate your health because at any time it could be taken away from you. Sometimes we get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of classes, work, and superficial things that we forget to stop and appreciate the small things in life. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
3) It Taught Me to Slow Down
As a type A overachiever, slowing down was never on my color-coordinated, alphabetically organized to-do list. Between over 20 credits in classes, organizations, and meetings galore, I was often left with little to no free time. This is why, when I was diagnosed with a chronic illness, I had a hard time slowing down. Even though I was in pain and needed rest, it was impossible for me to let go of my addiction to a full schedule. During one of my first hospital stays, as I laid in an uncomfortable hospital bed surrounded by beeping devices, my nurse began to ask about college. As I described my overwhelming amount of classes and named off the many organizations I was involved in, the nurse’s face became creased with concern. He listened quietly and then offered one piece of advice that I will carry with me the rest of my life. “Next time you become stressed about school or work or anything in life, ask yourself ‘will this matter in 5 years?’”, he said. That simple piece of advice made me realize that the classes, meetings, events, etc. that I was stressing about were so insignificant in the larger picture of my life and weren’t worth the worry and stress that they caused me. From that point on, I made a vow to slow down.
4) It Taught Me that it’s OK to Ask for Help
As someone who has always been fiercely independent, it is hard for me to ask for help, even when I really do need it. With that being said, having a chronic illness taught me that it’s OK to ask for help and to accept help from those who offer. It taught me that sometimes I can’t do it all on my own. Sometimes you need a shoulder to lean on or a helping hand and that is 100% OK. Asking for help doesn’t make you any less independent, nor does It make you weak.
5) It Taught Me Real Compassion
Showing concern and feeling empathetic for those who are struggling is something that I never struggled with before I battled my chronic illness. After all, we are taught from the time we are little to show compassion for others. For goodness sake, I would feel bad about stepping on a bug! All humor aside, it is hard to understand true compassion until you have been in a situation that changes the way you view life. Going through my chronic illness taught me to feel so much deeper and opened my eyes to the struggles of those around me.
6) It Taught Me to Love Myself
This lesson is not one that came quickly or easily. Our society is constantly preaching to love yourself and to be comfortable in your own skin, but when you are diagnosed with a chronic illness, sometimes that can be even more of a struggle. It took some time, but I came to realize that my chronic illness is not something that makes me any less of a person and the hurdles that I have faced make me who I am, as cliché as it sounds. Having a chronic illness taught me to love my scars and love my body because it fought one heck of a fight.
If you’re battling a chronic illness, know that you are not alone and that it really does get better. There will be bad days, but there will always be good days. Reach out to the ones you love, take time to rest, appreciate the simple joys in life, and remember to love yourself. You are not alone!