Kung Fu Panda's Po is one of my favorite movie characters. In one of my favorite animated scenes of all time - he attains "inner peace" to redirect a firey ball of liquid into enemy territory to save the day. In this scene, he quintessentially demonstrates how obstacles can be turned into opportunities.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that 6 in 10 Americans suffer from at least one chronic diseases (Note: chronic illnesses are defined by the CDC as the "personal experience of living with the affliction that often accompanies chronic disease," thus the two terms are linked, however, the focus of this article is on the related experience and not the disease.)
According to Merriam Webster, "chronic" is something that is "continuing or occurring again and again for a long time," and "illness" is "an unhealthy condition of body or mind." Used together "chronic illness" is any recurrent or ongoing unhealthy condition of the body or mind. With this definition in mind, chronic illnesses may actually encompass more than 6 in 10 Americans, given that the CDC definition is limited to conditions of the body.
The stresses faced by individuals with chronic illnesses include financial burdens, emotional tolls, temporal constraints and a lower quality of life to name a few. The stresses presented by chronic illnesses - approached with a determined, opportunistic, and problem-solving mentality - can translate to innumerable opportunities to positively impact communities.
Here are 6 ways by which you can leverage your chronic illness to effect positivity.
1. Use your illness to advocate for others
When it comes to chronic illnesses, patients often hear the phrase "you are your own best advocate," and while that is true, patients with chronic illnesses have shared experiences that they can use to bring about change for all. Use your experiences and your voice to effect change where change is needed - whether that be procedural, financial or political.
2. Use your illness to care for others
While a career in medicine or healthcare may not be the primary interest of patients with chronic conditions, having been "on the other side" allows care providers to better empathize with patients.
3. Use your illness to give you new perspectives
We each have a human perspective composed of overlapping spheres of our identity. Often, after a harrowing medical experience - with the right mindset and circumstances - individuals come out with a unique take on life - often one founded in meaning or relationships.
4. Use your illness to open up career opportunities
Despite more than 6 in 10 Americans having chronic illnesses, the majority of this afflicted population are older (50+); as a result, individuals with chronic illnesses at early stages in their education or careers can use chronic illnesses to help them identify programs or jobs that aim to recruit individuals with disabilities with the purpose of removing obstacles to education or advancement that students with disabilities might face.
5. Use your illness to create a community
While it may seem at times as though the journey with chronic illnesses is lonely, there is a tremendous benefit in joining together. Resources get shared, connections get made and conversations get had, all of which help contribute to a positive, collaborative community.
Society chooses to view chronic Illness as inherently disadvantageous, and while the battle with chronic illnesses may be laden with obstacles, the experiences and narratives of patients with chronic illnesses can be positively leveraged to give individuals unique ways to change the world.