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7 Lessons Chronic Illness Has Taught Me

Guest post by Sarah Downing
  1. Treat yourself with patience and kindness. Whilst you probably wish you could get well overnight, in reality it may take months and sometimes years to experience “normalcy” again. Consider just how long it took you to get sick in the first place. This is a daunting thought, so take it one day at a time and celebrate each stepping stone of progress. Be kind to yourself on the days you are filled with frustration and despair because your mental outlook does play a huge role in your healing. The reality is that life may never be the same again, but in my experience this isn’t always a bad thing. At this point, I can honestly say that I have ultimately become happier and more fulfilled than before my diagnosis – for various reasons that I will elucidate later in this article.

    You need to mourn your old life in order to achieve closure and move forward. Be honest with yourself about how you are feeling and allow yourself to be angry and sad because it is healthier to honestly express your emotions rather than letting them eat you up inside, which in turn can manifest in further symptoms of illness. Acclimatizing yourself to your new life will take time, but I have found that being proactive, making myself responsible for my own healing and surrounding myself with loving and caring people who understand what I am going through has made this process a whole lot easier.

    I suffered for years with symptoms of thyroid disease, so when I finally got a diagnosis I was actually relieved and saw this as a positive thing because it gave me an explanation for my uncontrolled weight gain and tiredness and meant that there was no longer any reason to feel guilty and ashamed (not that there was before, but as you know we often tell ourselves things that do not serve us – let go of those negative thoughts!). My diagnosis gave me hope that my condition could improve and that I might find relief from my symptoms. But in turn, I also realized that getting well is like peeling back the layers of an onion. Treatment is rarely simple and there are often accompanying conditions, so I have had to be my own medical detective and insist on the treatment I know I need and deserve.

  2. Look through each cloud to see the silver lining. Chronic illness is devastating, but it has taught me so much and brought me on a path I never dreamed I would now be walking. Hypothyroidism has taught me to celebrate my amazing body and to treat it with the love it deserves by eating a healthy, clean diet that works for me personally. Find what works for you because there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

    Since my diagnosis I have come to celebrate the beautiful uniqueness of my body. Pre-diagnosis people often made disparaging remarks about my figure. I’ve always been curvy, but I didn’t fit in with people’s ideas of what was considered beautiful. Now I am still curvy, but the difference is that I have worked out and become fit, toned and strong, so much so that I am now close to completing my training as a licensed massage therapist, a new career I plan to pursue alongside my existing career of translation and writing. I actually massaged an ex-wrestler yesterday, something I’m not sure I could have done before I got sick! My massage teachers often comment on how strong I am and I think to myself how ironic it is that only a few years ago I could barely get out of bed! When you are sick, you focus on your own healing, but it is surprising just how many sick people end up becoming healers – perhaps because we have experienced the heartbreaking suffering of struggling to find someone to give us a helping hand out of our own personal abyss. Sickness and suffering really cultivate people’s empathy and healing powers. On a similar note, my illness has enabled me to help others as a patient advocate by sharing my research and experiences with them through my blogging, in particular on my website Butterflies and Phoenixes. To me this is both fulfilling and empowering.

    And last but not least, it is because of hypothyroidism that I have made countless dear friends, many of whom I have met in person. Our illness brought us together, but ultimately many of us found that we had so many other things in common too.

  3. See your doctor as a partner who can provide you with the tools and knowledge to get well. But always do your research, be your own advocate and use your intuition – it’s a powerful thing if you learn to listen to it. Even doctors aren’t infallible, so it’s vital to take charge of your own healing. Don’t accept a doctor who patronizes or disrespects you. And don’t be afraid to kick them to the curb if they do. After all, it is you who is paying them for a service! And you owe it to yourself to find someone who is seriously invested in helping you find your own path to wellness.

  4. Each patient is unique and there is no “magic pill”. One may be helped by a certain treatment, whereas another may find they experience no change in symptoms whatsoever. So, don’t compare yourself to other patients. We all have our own battles to fight and can never truly walk in another’s shoes. Don’t feel guilty if your symptoms sound less severe than someone else’s. This doesn’t make your suffering irrelevant.

  5. Make the most of each and every day. Some days we can live life to the fullest and the next day we may suffer a relapse or be bedbound. Cherish each moment as a gift. And sometimes, as I mentioned before, illness may open our eyes to new gifts of which we were previously unaware. Be open to discovering new things about yourself and the world around you.

  6. Ignore those who refuse to take your illness seriously. There’s often a lack of awareness about many “invisible” illnesses (i.e. you are sick inside, but look “fine” on the outside), but don’t be discouraged by this. Seek understanding from those who truly care and, wherever possible, distance yourself from those who don’t as they will only drag you down. Sometimes this may even be your own family in which case you may have no choice but to limit contact with them to the best of your ability. One of the things that has helped me heal the most has been to, as much as possible, cut negative people out of my life and surround myself by those who truly want to be with me. Some friendships and relationships are organic and natural and those are the ones you should nurture and seek out.

  7. Never give up hope, take time to laugh and remain positive! You owe it to yourself to fight to get well. Do things that you love. Be with people you love – whether friends or family. Take note of what makes you happy. Rinse and repeat!

I’d love to hear your experiences on this. What lessons has chronic illness taught you? Do you feel it has made you a better person? Do you have any advice you would like to share with others.

Yours in hope and healing,

About the author: Sarah Downing is a ThyroidChange Blog Editor, thyroid advocate and creator of the blog Butterflies & Phoenixes

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