This post was guest-written by ChronicBabe Catherine Richardson.
I spent the first three years of my life with chronic illness completely unaware that I even had a chronic illness. I had daily symptoms and I even had a diagnosis, but a chronic illness? Sick? No. I wondered why it seemed like I had a harder time doing life than everyone around me, and I pushed myself too hard and stretched myself too thin in an effort to try and make up for that, but it never even crossed my mind that what I was dealing with was a chronic illness.
After I got so sick that my whole life fell apart, chronic illness was still a really tricky concept to wrap my head around. It seemed horribly misplaced when used to describe me, but once I knew what I was working with I was able to start to reassemble my life accordingly.
Four years later, chronic illness is my normal, and along with it have come other words and terms that I never imagined would be part of my life, words like hospital, feeding tube, central line, wheelchair and disability. Nothing about any of this has been easy, but that transition from the before to the after of realizing I had a chronic illness was also when other words and terms such as self-care, management, advocate, chronic illness community and acceptance became part of my life. These words are what have allowed me to cope with the scarier ones.
My heart aches for that earlier version of myself because even though she was in better physical health than I am now, she so was burdened by the feeling that this was something she had to overcome and if she couldn’t make herself better it would be her fault. If I could go back in time I know exactly what I would tell her.
It’s the same thing I tell myself so often when I’m worried about not being able to keep up. It’s what I tell myself every time I wonder if my brave face is going to be brave enough, every time I feel torn between what I think I should be able to do and what I realistically can do, and every time I try not to get my hopes up too high because I never know what my body will throw at me from one day to the next, even from one hour to the next.
It’s also what I told my friend a few weeks ago when she used every ounce of energy she could muster up to attend a wedding yet she still wasn’t sure if it would be enough to carry her through. It’s what I tell everyone who feels “less than” because of their health. Less than ready, less than confident, less than worthy.
And it’s what I’m going to tell all you ChronicBabes right now:
You will do as much as you can do, you will rally as much as you can rally, and whatever that ends up looking like will be okay.
Whatever you can do, if you let it, will be enough.
I most definitely do not have all the answers. Every day is still hard and I’m still muddling my way through this mess with varying degrees of success, but the biggest difference is that now I know the importance of putting my health first and I’m not afraid to do so. I know that I’m never going to be able to do it all and so I’ve stopped putting that pressure and those expectations on myself. And perhaps most importantly, I no longer see my chronic illness as a personal failure or a character flaw. Sometimes – a lot of times actually – my broken body becomes a barrier between what I want to do and what I’m able to do, but that doesn’t make me lazy, uncaring, anti-social or selfish. That makes me a person with a chronic illness.
I’m not perfect, but I don’t have to be. And neither do you.
I will continue to do my best. I will continue to do as much as I can do and rally as much as I can rally, and whatever that ends up looking like will be okay. I will be okay.
And so will you.
**This is the twelfth of many in a guest contributor series. If you would like to be considered as a guest writer for ChronicBabe, visit this link.**