I have never lived without a chronic illness.
I was born with asthma, as well as severe eczema, and still have both - 20 years later. When I was 11, I developed Crohn's disease, that in and of itself has been a roller coaster far worse than many other aspects of my life. Having been diagnosed, my journey with chronic illness can be described as getting used to carrying a weight and then having more weight added as soon as I became comfortable. What I have lived without, though, is mental illness. Not to say that mental illnesses cannot concurrently be chronic. But, in my own case, I have spent far less time with mental illness, and in the places they both have in my mind, are vastly dissimilar.
I think that typically, the comparability of one's life with a mental illness versus without a mental illness creates it's very own genre of thoughts and inquiries. It can be daunting to compare a time in your life where you were mentally healthy (or at least not diagnosed) to the point in life in which you carried a clear, diagnosed mental illness with you. However, I believe my acclimation and acceptance of chronic illness has spared me from that quandary. I've come to realize a very interesting relationship between the two, and while I cannot knowledgeably say that it is the same case for everyone, I can attest to myself.
Chronic illness, in its definition and manifestation, is long term. It is sparse to go away or be cured and is something one lives and copes with for most to all of their life. I did not outgrow my asthma, and there is no cure for Crohn's disease. When I was diagnosed with the chronic ailments I have, as well as when they have become progressively worse at times, I soon came to realize that I was short of options. I knew that finding a way to cure the diseases was something I couldn't and wouldn't hold my breath for. I'm simply not that idle of a person. Even more so, I knew that I had goals and aspirations, and sitting back and going at the pace of my diseases was not going to put me any closer to achieving them. So, ruling the aforementioned out, I was left with the motivated task of overcoming and proving the world, statistics, and doubters wrong. I knew that I would not be anything more than what people defined me as if I didn't change my actions. Conclusively, I knew it all started with my mindset and the way I treated myself and my dispositions. Change and development this severe (and necessary) would not be truly reached unless I actually believed that I could overcome physical setbacks. I had to be stronger than the arthritis I got from Crohn's. I had to be faster than the labored breathing asthma gave me. I had to be more confident than the scabbed skin that eczema gave me. I didn't want to be. I had to be.
So with this, I worked. I worked and progressed and bred myself and the people around me to leave no doubt that I would reach and receive what I set out to. Which was easy with my natural extroverted and persevering personality. It was simple - until I inched closer to the mental battles I would begin to face.
As some know, much of my struggle with Crohn's cured me at the cost of developing PTSD. The culmination of my sights and experiences as a dying teenager left me mentally morphed - and I wish I could say it was all for the better. Make no mistake, I left that era with increased resilience and a new definition of pain, sadness, and love. But, much like the concept of alchemy, I could not gain these traits without sacrificing my peace of mind and ability to forget certain sights, sounds, and conversations. I also began to struggle with depression at the age of 17. The additions to my collection of personal obstacles took longer to cope with and longer for me to learn and identify and help myself. Not just out of their severity, but also because of my familiarity and acclimation to chronic illness.
My ability to combat times where my chronic physical illnesses act up is extremely reliant on confidence, motivation, and other strengths of my mind and way of thinking. But, evidently, I cannot often apply this same method to overcoming mental illnesses - as they are a dysfunction of the same mind that exhibits the perseverance I need to overcome. This is particular with depression and the worsening of such is a large imposition in my motivation in general, let alone specific tasks. With PTSD, there is not only an interruption of the normal function of the mind but is comparable to being in another world. It is as if I never actually learned to push through and stand back up when I get knocked down. With that, and the moments where it rears itself, I am but a shell, and, on the surface, hardly capable of protecting myself.
The results of this coexistence between mindset dependency and mindset difficulty is tedious. It requires me to both hold onto my ways, as well as forget certain aspects, and develop others. The time in which there was one, a simple solution is now history. But, my recognition and need to remind myself carries the weight of fear, confusion, and hesitancy to trek unknown territory. It is one thing to think and process and understand. Most times, when we do these things incorrectly, we fall short and start again. But in times of illness, pain, and fear, the severity of failure magnifies. I come from depths where the handling of my predicaments is the difference between sinking and swimming. So, naturally, having to re-develop mindset and thought processes is not one I take and do easily. I am scared. I am hesitant. But fortunately, I am not alone.
To this day, I have not gotten the hang of processing how to handle my mental shortcomings. Sometimes I still fail to handle the symptoms that come with chronic illnesses because of the PTSD that came with them. But I have been yet graced with people in my life that walk this path with me. Deep down, I don't believe that experience and education will ever reveal the same "key" I found when overcoming the severity of my chronic illnesses alone. But if I did have to find one thing that never fails to help me, it would unequivocally be the people in my life that have my back. My Mother, sister, best friends, and wonderful girlfriend all journey with me, even when I'm bad company.
I can be ailed. I can lose my ability to walk. I can lose my ability to box and type and think and smile. What I cannot lose is my love and my heart. I cannot be stripped of the identity of the progress I have made, and illness - be it chronic or mental - does not stand a chance against the relationships I have with the people I care about. I may not get to sit down and take a break. I may be walking until the reason I have to walk prevents me from being able to walk any further. But the steps are necessary, and when walked with others, are far more pleasant than walking a journey alone. Hold onto this, and put your thoughts in your love and care in the place of the ones of fear, and sickness, and loneliness. Because at the end of these days and journeys, there are the only two types of thought that are large and passionate enough to take each others' place.