Invisible illnesses take away a lot of precious things and opportunities in our lives. I could easily list the things that are lost to those of us who battle chronic illness, fatigue, and pain day after day. You would probably easily understand most of the list and then, there might be some that you hadn’t thought of before because it went on further than you could have guessed. I do think it’s okay to grieve over our losses. I think it’s understandable to hurt and mourn over the ways invisible illness changes everything without our permission. Your sense of loss is real and valid and normal.
But, I want to take a wild leap of honesty here and share some deeply personal parts of my heart about what I’ve learned invisible illness has given to me. If you look closely enough or have an open heart to grow, you might realize that invisible illness has given you some gifts as well.
Please understand that I would never wish for anyone to have to face invisible illness. I am not saying that I am glad that I have an invisible illness or that everyone should try it! It is a very heartbreaking thing to see so many people battling a #invisiblefight for their health every day. It would be my wish that no one would ever have face such a trial ever again. Yet here we are, and the numbers of the autoimmune mess alone are 50 million and rising every day.
Charles Swindoll said that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. I couldn’t control my body when it started attacking itself and spiraling me into the health disaster and autoimmune mess I have become. The one thing I can control is how I deal with it. Am I going to become hateful and bitter, angry at everyone around me because of this unfair assault on my health? Or I am going to be a better person because of the lessons it is teaching me? For me, probably like most, it is a daily struggle to choose between these two options. I would love to tell you that I never struggle to have a good attitude but some days I do. I am angry and cranky because it’s not fair and I don’t want to do it anymore. I can turn into an emotional mess over it from time to time. But most days, I can see that my invisible fight is giving me more than battle scars. It is rewarding me with the plunder of being a better person.
Everything in life is a lesson. Some lessons come from more cruel teachers than others but you still learn. Invisible illness has taught me how to be a better person.
It has taught me how to be more humble. Before I got sick, I prided myself on my cleverness. I was quick-witted and brilliantly articulate. It’s ugly to admit but I had a disdain for people who couldn’t keep up with me in conversation or thought. I considered myself superior because of my ability to think fast and clearly. Wouldn’t you know that once my immune system went haywire the biggest challenge for me was brain fog. In particular, I struggled with words. I suddenly just couldn’t remember words like I use to. I would stumble and stutter trying to recall words I had used a zillion times. Over and over in my head, I knew what I was trying to say but I just could no longer remember the word for it. For the first time in my life, I felt really stupid. I was the slow one in conversations. I was incredibly frustrated with myself and my self-esteem plummeted. I was devastated over this and was really beginning to believe that I was stupid until a doctor explained to me what was happening in my brain to cause brain fog. Once I understood that it really was a symptom of my disease and not my stupidity I began to see things differently. When I encountered people I didn’t consider as clever as I once was, I suddenly realized that maybe they were having an off day too, or were especially tired, or had a reason I could never guess as to why. I no longer wanted to be the pretentious brain snob I had been because I had learned what a shallow and fleeting thing it was to have clever conversations. I learned to stop judging others based on some ridiculous expectation of their performance and to give myself grace when I can’t meet my expectations either. My once prideful ego went on a roller coaster ride from the top of the drop to the bottom but once I let myself learn I found the even tracked balance of humility. Invisible illness taught me how to be a better person.
Invisible illness taught me empathy. I was a perfectionist. I expected perfection not only from myself but from people around me. It is such a harsh and judgmental way to be, expecting everyone to get everything right all of the time. I have never been one to allow myself to offer excuses. I have never been able to fool myself into believing anything was ever anyone else fault. Because of this, I have never accepted the excuses of others either. Now, I find myself needing understanding and empathy, not just from myself, but from others in ways, I never imagined before. I desperately need people to understand that there are days when my invisible illness is a legitimate excuse that needs to be accepted. In turn, I have learned to understand and empathize with others. My empathy has grown so great during this journey that I have transformed from a hardened scoffer at other to a heartbroken advocate for others. I find myself constantly offering grace, mercy, and love to the people around me because having an invisible illness taught me my need for it. I learned to be empathetic in the sweetest of ways and it made me a better person.
I learned how to slow down and enjoy life. At one time life had been all about how many things you can do and how awesome they were. I had a mental checklist of all of the things I needed to have or pursue to have a “good life”. This checklist kept me busy. I spent a ton of time, money and energy pursuing the things on that list and while I was busy looking to check things off the sweet little things that make life good where passing me by. When you get sick you are forced to slow down whether you have checked off your list or not. At first, I fought it, but as we all know from our experience with flares, our immune system fights back! When I finally learned to be content slowing down, I realized the coolest thing. There is nothing in this world sweeter than chilling out at home with my family. Nothing had ever made me feel that life was as good as when I’m having a flare and my family snuggles up around me on the couch to enjoy a cheesy movie with me. They love me enough to curl up and comfort me instead of going out. Nothing is more precious than kissing my boys foreheads at night, now that I realize how fragile life actually is. Nothing is more romantic than the way my love protects me from over doing it. He will often step in and take over chores or demand that I stop doing things when I begin to overextend myself and it says I love you in ways I wouldn’t have heard before. I would have rushed right past all of these things without ever being able to fully understand the pleasure of them before I got sick. Invisible illness teaches us that life is precious and worth slowing down to enjoy.
I realize that invisible illness is one of the great thieves of life. Yet I have also learned that it can only steal my body, my attitude is mine to do as I please with. So I choose to take the ways that invisible illness changes us and let it change me into a better me. I am less prideful and more gracious. I am less judgmental and more understanding. I am less busy and more aware. Because I choose to learn, invisible illness is making me a better person. If we all choose to learn, then the world won’t just have 50 million more, sick people. It will have 50 million more people that are better, kinder, and more compassionate. How has your #invisiblefight made you a better version of yourself?