Chronic illness came into my life at a time when I thought I had everything in order. I was married, with a newborn and a 9-year-old, and looking at law schools. One day, I found my life suddenly trampled on by rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia and after that, any talk of gratitude would fill me with anger.
I wasn’t grateful, and the very suggestion I should be seemed to declare my illnesses untrue and insignificant. My life no longer resembled my life. and to make matters worse, it felt like my pain was being discounted.
Long before I got sick, I was often grateful.
Even in the toughest moments of my life, I would focus on all the reasons I was blessed. I was raised to be appreciative, and I knew it was good for me. But after years of being sick, I didn’t feel like being grateful anymore.
I stayed angry for many years. Because I was sick. Because others weren’t o understanding. Because I had to give up on some of my dreams and because my marriage was failing. And for so many other reasons.
Prior to getting sick, I often downplayed my hurt, even hiding most of what I felt so as not to upset others. I don’t know why chronic illness changed me, but it did, leaving so many in my life to wonder who I had become.
I exhausted so much energy and time being angry over the unfairness. I wasn’t sure if I would ever come through to the other side, especially because I would still be sick. But I did make it through the looking glass, and my ability to be grateful and accept the unfairness did come.
Things did get better over time for me. My pain levels were managed, as were my disease symptoms. I walked away from my marriage and accepted it would never be a happy one simply because I stayed. I focused on being the mother my children needed and deserved. I let go of people who were bringing toxicity to my life. I focused on my writing, patient advocacy and being successful in my legal job. I also sought help from a mental health professional in dealing with my anger.
And even after all that, finding reasons to feel blessed and grateful and letting go of the unfairness, seemed unfamiliar.
With time, however, I realized gratitude meant being at peace with my life and circumstances, finding happiness and letting to go of the fears that once consumed me. It was also a way to fully appreciate the good things I had overlooked and taken for granted in the past. I wanted to feel better, and I finally understood I had to stop dwelling on the unfairness and find gratitude to achieve this.
In all honestly, I have hated every minute of my experience with chronic illness, and once upon a time, this made it difficult to be grateful. But I have learned to be thankful for the many things that have come from this “unfair” experience. It has been tough, but it has taught me how strong I am and can be. Most importantly, it has taught me to accept myself as I truly am. And I am appreciative for these things and so much more.
The way I see it, the choice to find gratitude among the unfairness has always been mine alone to make. RA and fibromyalgia might be here to stay, but they do not decide my destiny, how I chase my dreams or how I watch my children grow up. And yes, I still sometimes grieve for my losses and feel anger towards the unfairness. But I appreciate being alive, being able to do all the things I once took for granted and realizing my life is my own and I actually get to be happy and grateful for every single moment of every day.