When you are part of the world of chronic illness, you often hear that you are a “warrior.” You hear that you must be strong to live like you do, that you have a lot of fight in you. How else could you live with a beast inside your body, day in and day out and not go to war with it? The alternative to warring with the beast inside you is to give up, give in, let go and die.
Perhaps it seems a bit dramatic to bring up death but there is more than one way to die. When you live in a constant state of uncertain health and your body is riddled with unstoppable pain, weird unexplainable aches, massive weariness and frequent episodes of mental obscurity, you can become discouraged enough to isolate yourself from the rest of the world and this is a certain kind of ghostly death. Giving up on your life while still existing is in fact, fatal. Having all of the quality of your life stripped from your world is dispiriting and is the sort of living death that comes with a chronic condition if you don’t consciously choose to fight for more than subsistence.
Chronic illness will kill your spirit by stealing your health first, then your happiness, then your feeling of security, then your income and career, your home and finally your relationships. It will take and take and take from you until nothing is left. Until you no longer feel valued or that you bring value to the world. Chronic illness will seek to shrink your world and your worth until it is so small you have nothing left and no reserves to continue fighting.
Even though there is no disputing life with a chronic health condition can be daunting, there is an alternative to living death. You do not have to live like a whisper in your own story but you need to keep some weapons at the ready. One of them is to put on your battle armor every day. This means getting up and getting dressed. Getting up and getting dressed might seem like a no brainer to those who are not chronically ill but, that just means you don’t have to sit down and catch your breath after you shower. For many of us with a chronic condition, the thought of getting up and looking our best is a huge challenge but if you don’t do it, your disease wins. That isn’t to say that a day on the couch now and then isn’t necessary, of course it is. Rest is important when you are fighting a chronic condition but it’s not an excuse for giving up.
Getting up and dressing up are only two weapons in your arsenal. When you are chronically ill, attitude is absolutely everything. You can see the world as a devastating place, as if everyone has given up on you and you on them or, you can decide to make the best of a difficult situation and even if your world has shrunk, even if people have stepped away from you because you can’t keep up with them anymore, you can still give whatever is left of your world, the best you have to give. You can still make a conscious choice to take pride in your life, even if your life isn’t what it once was and you will feel better about yourself for the effort.
There is no doubt that living with a chronic illness changes you. Accepting that life is different, grieving the loss and change but then showing up, battle ready, for what’s next is the only way to find any harmony, it is the only way of sustaining any peace. It is what must be done if you want to be defined by more than your disease. Careful consideration of your outlook, daily inventory of your attitude and where you are in your ability to accept your current circumstances are basic requirements for combat. These are the things that make you a “warrior.” These are the things that give you the will to fight so that you can do more than exist, you can do more than survive. Having a life with chronic illness does not mean you cannot thrive. You can…if you show up and fight!