It turns you into a liar, making you tell people you are feeling fine when you are not just so you don’t burden them with your constant problems. It even makes you lie to yourself, making you forget what it really does feel like to feel healthy so that “not awful” starts to blend with “moderately crappy” which starts to seem like “not too bad” which eventually becomes the new standard for “OK.”
It turns you into someone who can’t be relied upon. It forces you to cancel events, to leave early, to create excuses to not attend something because you don’t feel well. Even when you are feeling well, you never know when chronic illness will come back, so you resist making plans far into the future.
It gets between you and other people. Like a vampire, chronic illness sucks up your physical and emotional energy, leaving you with little for yourself and almost nothing to give others. You lose contact with old friends, especially as their lives move on and they celebrate happy events like weddings and births and job promotions that healthy people take for granted.
Chronic illness is a thief. A crafty, clever thief who has infinite patience and is armed with many tricks for breaking into your life.
But you can fight back.
Refuse to be a liar. Admit when you are not feeling well. Don’t let yourself believe that just because you feel good enough to get out of bed, go to work, and function on a basic level that you are “OK.” You deserve to feel the same energy and vitality that everyone wants. Don’t accept anything less.
Don’t accept the word of doctors who say this is the best you’ll ever feel. Try a different way of eating. Try a different approach altogether. Find a new doctor.
Be brave enough to ask for help. It takes a great deal of bravery to admit to weakness. Be brave enough to make plans. Live your life, strive for your dreams. Don’t wait for the unknown day in the future when you will feel well again to start living. Live now.
Reach out. Build a tribe of support around you. Seek out role models.
Resist the urge to feel resentment over other people’s happiness. Go ahead and indulge in a little mourning for what you have lost, but then pick yourself up and find something you can celebrate.
Because there is always something to celebrate, even when chronic illness is trying to break down your fortified, triple-locked, super-secure front door.
My new outlook on chronic illness
In the past, I have allowed my chronic illness, Crohn’s disease, and the complications of it, to steal much from me. It has taken friends, it has hindered my relationships, it has adversely affected my career, it has put dreams and plans on hold. I have spent a lot of time living in a holding pattern, passively waiting for things to magically improve.
Now I am doing what I can to improve my health by following a paleo diet with modifications for autoimmunity. I’m prioritizing sleep, getting appropriate exercise, and doing my best to manage stress. These are the tools I use to guard against the thief we call chronic illness.