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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lessons: From Suffering to Empowered

When you're diagnosed with a disease that is incurable, it can throw your life into a tailspin. All of a sudden, your life comes to a screeching halt. You're forced to focus on making it through each moment... hour... day... and simply taking life one tiny step at a time. Everything you've hoped and dreamed for your life comes crashing down around you, and uncertainty takes over. All of the things that you used to enjoy doing, you're suddenly unable to do. And, if you have an invisible illness that comes with stigma attached to it, you can't depend on a whole lot of compassion and support... even from some people that you thought were closest to you. People tend to fear what they don't know or understand, so many people simply detach themselves from the situation... leaving the person living with chronic illness feeling increasingly isolated.

I've actually read that some people living with chronic diseases actually wished their diagnosis had been cancer, instead of whatever they have. It may sound crazy, but I can sorta see where they're coming from. Of course, they don't really wish they had cancer and are by no means belittling cancer's severity... but, it would be amazing to have the same respect, compassion, understanding, and support that's given to cancer patients.

There may be less understanding and compassion for many of those living with chronic illness, but we can't just sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. We must learn to move from a suffering patient to an empowered individual. Some of the lessons that can help move us toward empowerment, include the following.

Be your own advocate. I've had to learn to be an advocate for myself. I don't blindly take advice from anyone, including doctors. There is no cure for Migraine, period. I'm simply doing my best to work with my doctors to find some way of improving my life, despite having this illness.

Let it go. This one is difficult for me, and I'm guessing that it will continue to be difficult... but I'm really working on it. I think there are several things I need to let go of, including:
  • My fears and anxieties - I must hand these over to God. Allowing myself to get wrapped up the many fears and anxieties that inevitably come from living life in chronic pain helps no one. I don't want to be frozen in fear, and let life pass me by. 
  • What others say and/or do - I can't let other people's thoughtlessness upset me. Whether or not others choose to try to understand what I'm going through, to be compassionate about what I'm going through, etc... is NOT up to me. It can be hurtful, but it's out of my control. All I can do, is love myself enough to do what I need to do to be as healthy and live as good a life as possible.
  • The effects of my illness - I need to let go of the times that I have to turn down an invitation or miss an event. I can't control when the pain will be that bad (or how others will respond to canceled plans)... I need to learn to be more forgiving of myself when it happens (and, again, not be affected by how others respond / react).
Celebrate tiny milestones. Since so much of life becomes taking baby steps, it's important to remember to celebrate even the smallest of milestones. While others may not think that taking a shower, for example, is an achievement, it may very well be a big one. Give yourself credit for the steps you're making toward living the best life you can with chronic illness.

Find joy in new and/or different ways or things. You may not be able to do many of the things you once enjoyed and were good at, but that doesn't mean you can't do anything. Explore new areas and interests, and you might just find a hidden talent that you may otherwise have never have discovered. It's extremely difficult to lose the things we thought we valued so much, but living a life guided by trust in God can open us up to a whole new world and to opportunities that we never even considered or thought possible.

Decide you're going to go forward. Illness and disease can be an obstacle that you sit back and give in to OR it can be a challenge that you learn to live with and succeed despite it. Let this propel you forward into the future before you. Allow yourself to see where you've been, and where you are now... but you can't focus solely on what you've lost. Until there is a cure, you have to come to terms with the fact that there is a new normal - this is the new life you have to live... choose to live it!

Lessons Series:
Lessons: From Suffering to Empowered
Lessons: Learning From Life With Chronic Pain
Lessons: Learning to Accept Imperfection (Part 1)
Lessons: Learning to Accept Imperfection (Part 2)

This post was written as part of the Health Activist Writer's Awareness Challenge (HAWMC).