There is no question that chronic illnesses change lives in ways we wish it didn’t. Choosing to embrace an imperfect life can help you face challenges and lead a happy, meaningful, and fulfilled life.
Here are five steps to embracing an imperfect life with chronic illness:
1. Feel your anger and grief
Living with chronic illness for a number of years, my greatest struggle has been grief toward my illnesses. In particular, anger at myself for being sick, at unhelpful loved ones I would have been there for, at a demanding life that seems more reasonable and accommodating for others who are healthy, and at life for changing beyond my control.
I now understand that my life will never be the same, and that’s not a bad thing. I am happier than I was prior to my diagnoses due to being proactive and responsible for my own health and well-being.
Give yourself permission to feel angry about feeling ill, and make the effort to quickly move through the five stages of grief. You need to mourn your old life to achieve closure. Remember, everyone grieves differently, and there is no correct way to express pain and sorrow toward your new life. The key is to not let emotions take on a life of their own.
2. Get up every morning
There was a time I found it difficult to accept that I was sick. I remember waking up every day believing that I could be healthy again and my body wouldn’t hurt. But I didn’t, and things have never really gone back to normal. After nearly eight years living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia, I still get up every morning and have to motivate myself because I have people relying on me: my children, my boss, my coworkers.
Resisting something doesn’t mean you can keep it from happening. Accept that your illness is here to stay, but at the same time, do not give into it. Motivate yourself to get up every morning, live your life, and work with your illness, not against it. Focus on your health needs such as being active, eating healthy, getting rest, and managing pain and symptoms. Learn to let go of all you cannot control.
3. Find support
I don’t know where my emotional health would be without the support of loved ones, medical professionals, and even strangers. It is my responsibility to communicate what my needs are. I have struggled with asking for and accepting help. I try to remind myself that others want to help and that I can provide similar support when I am able to. I have also struggled with depression as I worry about facing the future with RA and fibromyalgia. Talk therapy has helped me feel stronger and better equipped to manage the challenges imposed by my health.
Chronic illness is isolating and can make you feel hopeless. Maintain a support system especially during difficult moments. Reach out to others living with similar diseases who understand your struggles and have experience coping successfully. Moreover, therapy can help you cope with the demands of your illness. Remember, depression is nothing to be ashamed of. If you find yourself struggling with symptoms of depression, love yourself enough to get the help you need and deserve.
4. Choose to grow
Chronic illness was a messy detour that forced me to change my life plans. But, this detour also turned out to be a great blessing that taught me to heal physically and emotionally. Every day, I make new attempts to find out who I am and discover who I am becoming. I believe that each day is a new opportunity to learn, grow, and better myself.
Growth with chronic illness is continuous. You have two choices: dwell and be bitter about illness or make illness a catalyst for growth. Concentrate on what you can do, and look for opportunities to use your abilities to better yourself and help others. Make healthy choices, seek help and support, and turn your obstacles into life lessons. The choice is always yours.
5. Accept, but don’t dwell on unfairness
I know all too well that being sick isn’t fair. I have worked hard in both my personal and professional lives and even harder after illness. I am a good mother, but I still feel guilty my kids don’t have the attention I wish they had. My marriage ended, and while that had nothing to do with my health, it makes me second guess myself and question ever finding love again. If I could have protected my health, I would have. But, I couldn’t, nor could I control everything that happened after. Life is simply not fair, and I accept that. I am learning to let go of what I wanted my life to be and to focus on better days ahead.
The universe hasn’t picked you to suffer, and chronic illness has nothing against you specifically. Some things that happen simply don’t have an explanation. They just happen. Yes, sometimes there is unfairness. All you can do is focus more on things you do have control over and dwell less on things you don’t.
Embrace the imperfection
If I had waited for my life to be perfect or to go back to what it used to be, I would have missed out on so much. If not for chronic illness, I wouldn’t have learned to let go of the little things and focus on the important ones. I love the imperfect twists and turns my life has taken because of where this journey has led me. Yes, my life is messy, but I am working to make the best of what life has given me—imperfect and beautiful all at the same time.
Decide to embrace the imperfection that chronic illness has given you and make the best of it. If you don’t, chronic illness will get the best of you. This is your life, and you should be in charge of every minute of it.