When you get diagnosed with a chronic illness, mental or physical, your life becomes different than those of healthy people. There may be medications, there may be frequent doctor visits, there may even be blood tests, shots, scans and more.
Sometimes it gets hard to look at yourself and accept the fact that you are dealing will an illness. You may live in denial for a while and you may even get upset with yourself, asking “why can’t I just be healthy?” Your body doesn’t always cooperate with you- whether it be the foods you eat, the movements you make, or even the thoughts you have. You can treat your body, and mind, with self-love, healthy foods, exercise, and everything it needs, and still it can fight back.
The unfortunate reality of chronic illnesses is that there will be some nights that you just can’t go out with your friends, some days that you struggle to get out of bed, sometimes that life will just seem to suck. You may have to go back and forth with your doctors, go through multiple tests and evaluations and much more.
In my personal case, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. My diagnosis didn’t come easily, though. It took me years to convince my (ex) doctors that I was actually ill. I went through countless doctor’s appointments, explaining my symptoms, just to be not heard. Most doctors refused to test me for anything, claiming my symptoms weren’t enough.
The most hurtful situation I went through with a doctor was actually when I got diagnosed. I sat there and explained to my new doctor (at the time) of my symptoms. I was always tired, taking naps when I used to have so much energy. My hair was falling out all the time even though I grew up with strong, extremely thick hair. I could not lose weight to save my life; I would restrict my diet, see a nutritionist, exercise all the time. I even bought a Fitbit to prove that I was extremely physically active (as if my tennis matches, dance practices, hours in the gyms and all the walking I did each day didn’t prove enough). Despite my efforts, all I would do is maintain weight at best, gain at my worst.
When I told the doctor all of my symptoms, she suggested that it was all caused by being overweight and stressed. I suggested that it may be my thyroid, having both family history of thyroid problems and classic symptoms of such. I suggested getting the blood work to multiple previous doctors and got nowhere; they would usually say no and look at me like I was on a fishing expedition to explain my overweight body. However, even though this doctor seemed skeptical, she sent me to get the testing done.
After a stressful blood test (like all of my blood labs are) I waited for some answers. I went back to the doctor’s office and she confirmed that my thyroid was extremely off. The normal range for a thyroid (TSH levels) was between 0.3 and 3.8. My thyroid levels were 6.9. As I sat in her office, she prescribed me a new medicine at a high dosage (Levothyroxine at 112 mcg). She said that the medicine would help balance my thyroid and I may see some results in weight loss too.
This is the part that really hurt me: my doctor wanted to just retouch on my eating habits just to double check (even though I had seen the nutritionist, who literally praised me for the way I was eating). The doctor listened to me and at the end of the conversation told me a story about when she was a body builder. She told me that she would only eat tuna and eggs and drink water. With a completely straight face, she told me about how she would lose weight and tone up rapidly because she was only eating 200 calories. She blatantly said to my face that it could be dangerous. And that’s when she recommended it to me. She looked me straight in the eyes and said: “I’m not saying that it is the safest diet ever, but it works.” And she fucking winked.
My doctor basically just encouraged me to develop an eating disorder. I was so upset that when she left the room that I grabbed my aunt (a nurse in the office) and pulled her into the room I was just insulted in; I exploded into tears and anger and told her what had happened. Due to a conflict of interest, she grabbed another nurse for me, who I explained the situation to. As I sat in tears, she grabbed someone of importance (not sure who it was, just someone above the doctors) and I told her what had happened. This woman explained to me that it was not at all okay, and asked me if I wanted to switch doctors. Immediately, I switched to my current day doctor and scheduled a new patient appointment.
I felt relief that I finally had a diagnosis and a new doctor that would hopefully treat me better than the previous one.
When I met with my new doctor, I finally felt that someone was taking me seriously. She recognized that I had an illness and she helped me understand what it was and how to live with it. She even helped me discover that I had PCOS as well, and how to treat it. Of course, it was scary to think about the symptoms and side effects. It was scary to think about surgeries if the medicine doesn’t work. It was scary to think I may not be able to have children one day (even though at that point I didn’t want them at all). However, even with the fears, I felt so much relief.
But after the diagnosis, you have two choices: Stand up and fight back or let your illness conquer you.
I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from my dreams; I take my medicine, adjust my life a little and keep pushing. In a way, my chronic illnesses have taught me about myself and what I can do.
I learned that I am much more resilient and determined than I believed I was.
I learned that my chronic illness is another life lesson in which I will grow stronger.
I learned that it is okay to slow down every once in a while.
I learned that I should trust my instincts.
I learned that there are always people who will doubt you and that I will show them they are wrong.
I learned that it’s okay to focus on myself sometimes. My health is important.
I learned that my life is a blessing, and so are the people in it.
I learned that it’s okay to open up to people. (My fraternity family is the first group of people that I discussed my illness about intimately and I cannot thank them enough for the support they gave me during my first huge meltdown.)
I learned that it’s okay to actually feel your feelings. (Your chronic illness will cause you to accept, express and explore Intense feelings of anger, frustration, overwhelm, fear, sadness and even self-pity. But also strength, courage, happiness, acceptance and perseverance.)
Most importantly, I would say that I’m learning to love my illness. I’ll never fully accept that I have to live with an illness, but I can learn to adapt. I've learned when the best time to take my medicines is, I've learned how to read my body better, I've learned how to lose weight with my conditions. Honestly, I’m still learning to this day, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop.
I'm no longer just surviving, though: I'm thriving.