There's no doubt about it, having a chronic illness can be shit. And to write a blog post, 'five ways that chronic illness has made my life shit' would arguably be a lot less of a challenge, in fact stopping at five may be the hardest part. However, the truth is, if you are one of the many chronic illness sufferers in the UK, the reality is, that in most cases, it's not going anywhere. And as much as we may dismay, for most of us this chronic illness passenger is going to be a permanent feature of this road trip we call life.
This leaves us with two choices as I see it. A painfully uncomfortable journey, where we try and ignore this unwanted passenger, despite his never ending attempts to get our attention, grab the wheel and generally derail the trip. Or, we bite the bullet, accept his presence and get to know him a little better (after all, we're in for a long ride, we hope). And who knows, if we can get on better terms, perhaps even see each other a little more warmly and respectfully, then maybe we have a better chance of politely asking him to go and sit in the back seat for a while, so we can proceed a little more as planned.
Easier said than done, you don't need to tell me. But in a bid to start this friendship, I need to acknowledge my new self (the one with this ungainly fellow on board) as part of my new adventure, and how great that can still be. Because trying to throw my new driving buddy out of the passenger door, or close my eyes so he disappears, not only am I highly likely to crash, but I'm also preventing myself from enjoying the ride.
So here it is, my first step to embracing my awkward, unwanted and somewhat irritating new friend, by acknowledging the positive ways chronic illness has improved my life...
1. I have been forced to look in a metaphorical mirror
'I strongly believe in a healthy lifestyle and one day I fully intend to embrace one.' This was the mantra of my 20s. I have never been very unhealthy and I still wouldn't call myself a health nut now, but if the last few years have shown me one thing, it's the benefit of looking after myself.
Now I drink less booze, eat more vegetables and less processed food, and practice yoga and meditation. I'm no saint, and I think it's important to know when it's time to let your hair down or stuff a large piece of cake, but I have a much greater respect and appreciation for my body that drives me towards a more balanced life.
2. I don't sweat the small stuff
Well most of the time anyway, I am still human after all. But trivial work issues, my husband leaving a wet towel on the bed, and all of the other little annoyances that used to result in a very stressed me, just don't bother me in the same way. And I can tell you, it's a much nicer place to be!
3. I have a new understanding of my own strength
In the words of Whitney 'I didn't know my own strength'. And to be honest I don't think most of us do. Until we're faced with a tough battle it can be common to imagine that we might not be able to cope. If I ever read about someone who faced major adversity I'd think 'I don't know how they did that, some people are so strong, I couldn't do that.'
Now I know that's not the case. Human nature is much stronger than we give it credit for and sometimes it's not until we face that extreme situation that we realise it.
4. I have a more compassionate outlook on others
Trying to imagine what kind of day someone might've had as they flip you the bird and speed off at the lights is not easy. However, as someone who has quite a lot bad days, whilst I don't behave like this, I do have a more sympathetic view of others less desirable actions. After all what do we know about their life? I'm not suggesting that people shouldn't be accountable for their actions, of course they should. I'm also not suggesting we should accept crap from people in our lives. However, the greatest thing I've learned about giving the benefit of the doubt to angry strangers, is that it probably has a more positive effect on my life than anyone else's. Ultimately it saves me a whole heap of anger, stress and pain over something entirely out of my control.
5. I get to experience an amazing community and sense of connection
Ever met someone who said the war was the best time of their life? It wasn't for everyone, obviously, but times of adversity seem to be able to create this bizarre oxymoron. Where strangers who are suffering come together and create a sense of community and support that is less common in times of peace and steadiness.
The chronic illness community has this for me. Where a group of people all over the world, who barely know each other, come together on social media and are supportive, kind and caring and at times like family to one another. Again the adversity pulls strangers together in a positive way, and that is an incredible source of strength and support for me.
...My unwanted friend is now smiling across at me from the passenger seat with an I told you so look on his face, just as long as he knows not to get too comfortable...
HuffPost UK Lifestyle has launched EveryBody, a new section calling for better equality and inclusivity for people living with disability and invisible illness. The aim is to empower those whose voices are not always heard and redefine attitudes to identity, lifestyle and ability in 2017. We'll be covering all manner of lifestyle topics - from health and fitness to dating, sex and relationships.
We'd love to hear your stories. To blog for the section, please email email@example.com with the subject line 'EveryBody'. To flag any issues that are close to your heart, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, again with the subject line 'EveryBody'.
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