Lessons That Chronic Illness Forced Me To Learn
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Politics and Activism

Lessons That Chronic Illness Forced Me To Learn

Maybe the "hard way" is the best way to learn.

Lessons That Chronic Illness Forced Me To Learn

Having a chronic illness was never part of the big plan I had for myself. I didn't exactly daydream about spending time in the hospital and missing semesters of college. When I initially became ill, I felt as though everything had been taken from me. I felt like I was stripped of my health, education, opportunities and even a good chunk of my happiness. When it first started, I wouldn't have imagined that I could ever feel grateful for the health challenges I was struggling with. However, with the perspective that comes with time, I now see that my experiences with chronic illness have taught me powerful lessons that have benefitted my life in a very positive way.

Here are some of the most important lessons that my experiences with chronic illness helped me to learn (the hard way):


Chronic illness is the ultimate test of patience. It forces you to switch from a fast-paced lifestyle to one in which you must take life one day at a time if you wish to remain even somewhat sane. First you wait (sometimes years) for a diagnosis, then you wait for test results, then you wait to get in to see the right doctors, and then you wait to find a treatment plan that actually works, and then you wait to get back to school or work, or wait to feel “normal” again. It is easy to feel frustrated by the constant waiting, and even easier to feel frustrated when you learn that managing this condition is going to be a lifelong struggle. This is when you are forced to develop patience. When you are struggling with an illness, there are times when looking at the big picture is simply too overwhelming. Sometimes, the big picture looks like endless trips to the hospital, debilitating symptoms, and a whole lot of things you won’t be able to do. Instead, you have to train yourself to look at the little picture. Focus on getting through the day, and then the week, you must try and keep your goals small and obtainable. Learning to be patient means accepting and tolerating the hardships life hands you, and refusing to let those hardships dictate your happiness. There might be things you can’t do right now, but that does not mean that you will never be able to do those things! Be patient with yourself and with the universe, things change and things get better even when it seems impossible. As you become more patient, chronic illness becomes easier to cope with.

"Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish." John Quincy Adams


When the going is easy, having faith is easy. However, when the going gets tough, having faith gets tough. When you are living with a chronic illness, it is easy to ask the question, “why me?” It seems unfair and almost cruel that you were dealt such a crappy hand when it appears that so many others have virtually everything going for them. This is where faith comes into play. You must have faith that there is a God who knows and loves you, and who has a plan for you. While being sick might not be part of the plan you had for yourself, try to have faith in the plan that God has for you. Believe that things happen for a reason. Have faith that there is something you will learn from your experiences with illness that you couldn’t have learned otherwise. Hold onto the belief that there is a reason all of this is happening to you, and that it isn’t just some sort of twisted punishment. Even when you feel defeated and weak, trust that going through this trial will actually make you stronger. To have faith means to fully believe that things will get better, even when it appears impossible. As our faith begins to grow, we can start to let go of our worries and fears and trust that things will turn out the way the are supposed to. Faith is the driving force that will allow you to persevere and endure the obstacles life puts in your path.

"Faith allows things to happen. It is the power that comes from a fearless heart. And when a fearless heart believes, miracles happen." Unknown


Dealing with chronic illness is exceptionally challenging because the suffering appears to be never ending. When you are told that your condition is “incurable” it is easy, logical even, to let go of the hope of getting better. The “chronic” part of chronic illness is overwhelming because as human beings, we rarely experience anything in this life that will not change or end. Childhood ends, relationships end, college ends, friendships end, the bad times end, and often even the good times end too. Life does not prepare us to deal with never ending things, which is what makes chronic illness so uniquely difficult to cope with. Under such circumstances, it isn’t logical to have hope. Having hope will likely mean getting let down. However, as counterintuitive as it may seem, having hope is absolutely essential to enduring chronic illness. Without hope, the weight of your burdens will become unbearable. Even if it seems illogical, have hope that you get healthier, that you will feel better again, and be happy again. Hope is what we can cling to when everything else falls apart. It is what keeps us going when everything tells us to give up. Hope can transport us from our current misery to a place of optimism and possibility. A spirit of hope will make you resilient against even the most destructive illnesses. A life with illness is inarguably difficult, but a life without hope is devastating beyond compare.

"We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope." Martin Luther King


Perhaps the most valuable and important thing we receive through experiencing hardship is the ability to empathize with others. Empathy is much more than being able to love, care about, or feel sorry for those who are suffering through difficulties. Empathy is not the same as sympathy, it is being able to truly understand the pain and sorrow another person is feeling, because you have also felt that way. Facing chronic illness, and dealing with the physical and emotional suffering that comes along with it, allows for us to deeply understand the depth of the pain felt by other who face similar obstacles. When we can feel and relate to the suffering of others, we are therefore able to better support, help, encourage, and love them. With empathy, we can transform the world into a place of understanding and acceptance of tolerance. I believe that if we could more fully empathize with the people in our lives, there would be less violence, crime, corruption, war, and human suffering. For example, when you understand what it is like to be discriminated against, you wouldn't ever want to inflict that burden on someone else. Hatred comes from a place of misunderstanding and separation. Empathy helps to bridge these gaps and transform our world into a more peaceful, kind, and better place.

"Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge… is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self kind of understanding." Bill Bullard

I am thankful for the obstacles I have faced because they have allowed me to understand the things my mind had previously been too narrow to comprehend. I think my experiences fall under the category of "learning things the hard way", but perhaps there is no better way to learn. My chronic illness has proved to be a wonderful teacher of important life lessons, and I hope that I can continue to learn and grow from my challenges.

“Experience: That most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” C.S. Lewis

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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