Reading the title of this blog, you may think I’ve lost it: been in the sun too long, gone bananas, lost my marbles, taken leave of my senses. In a way I have, because I’ve decided to be grateful for my challenges instead of wishing them away. In today’s society, which values success, or at least the appearance of it, chronic disease and pain only get in the way of this success. As someone who lives with pain so intense that it interferes with every aspect of my life, how could I be anything but resentful of this fact? How could I not be resentful of this fact as well: living with a chronic disease prevents me from being successful by todays definition because it prevents me from having the energy and physical stamina required for this success.
My disease has prevented me from continuing a career I loved and was good at, it takes away my ability to hike, bike, travel, and basically participate in life at the level that I desire. It has robbed me of countless hours of fun with family and friends when I have to bow out due to my pain/disease. It has taken away many career paths and opportunities that I know would have added joy and meaning to my life and others. It has stopped me from having children of my own. It has done all of these things, which, on paper, look absolutely tragic. But we all know that judging things by how they look on paper is a mistake.
When I stop keeping a list of all the negative aspects of disease, I leave room for gratitude to peek in. Then, quickly, it grows, and I realize that, quite possibly, the juvenile rheumatoid arthritis that I’ve lived with since I was two has given more to me that it has taken away. Putting pen to paper after taking a breath for a bit, my life looks very different.
Here is why my JRA is the best thing that ever happened to me:
- It helps me grow my compassion every day.
- It reminds me how strong I am.
- It makes me less fearful- after all, if I can handle this what else would scare me?
- It allows me to spend more time with myself, and in doing so, increase my self-knowledge.
- It has improved my connection to those around me; there may not be as much time with others as there otherwise would have been, but the time I do have is more meaningful. Because I so obviously live with challenge, people tend to talk to me more easily about their own. I cherish this, and am grateful that I can be the person others turn to in difficulty.
- It has made health a priority for me throughout my life and as a result, ironically, in some ways, I am healthier than my peers. Because I feel the consequences so easily, I have been aware of diet/exercise/stress management for much of my life, and at this point my health habits are a seamless part of my life.
- It has made me more resilient, which may just be the most important life skill. Along these lines, it has also made me extremely adaptable.
This list is a partial one, and every item on this list can be explored in much more depth, something I plan on doing in future blogs, but the bottom line is this-
Chronic disease doesn’t take away your life; it just gives you a different one.
Knowing this will appease some of the angst that is a natural response to pain and disease. It will also remind you that your life is beautiful, meaningful, purposeful, and worth living, perhaps now more than ever.
I encourage you to dig on in, say to yourself, “Bring it on!” and join me in enjoying the life I’ve been given.