Living with a chronic illness can be overwhelming and bring a lot of negativity into a person’s life. However, there is a lot of good that can come from it, too. I know it may sound ludicrous, but it’s absolutely choose. It’s all a matter of your perspective. I live with various chronic conditions, but there are also many unexpected blessings from my illness.
This article first appeared in The Fibromyalgia Magazine, October 2018. Get the digital copy of the magazine from Pocketmags.
Disclosure: I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post, but these are products I recommend and have verified and/or used.
An Overwhelming Diagnosis
During the six years prior to my fibromyalgia diagnosis, I was the worst mess of a person. My days were filled with pain, and my nights, despite being utterly exhausted from the hustle and bustle of the day, were unrestful. A lot of times the only way I fell asleep were from the tears that came from the thoughts of being a terrible mom and wife.
These years were full of pain, yes, but they were also stuffed with irritability, mood swings, unrelenting bouts of anxiety and depression, inability to tell others ‘no’, and persistent resentment of my state of health. The combination of these feelings made for long days and longer nights.
When I discovered there was a reason for my diminishing state of mind and body, it was an overwhelming sense of freedom. Once fibromyalgia was confirmed by ruling out all other possibilities, I was on my way to better health. Longing for the days to be relatively pain free and able to successfully manage my illness, I committed myself to healing. I knew by healing I could succumb to the pleasures of living and no longer feel imprisoned by my ailments. Little did I know what my illness would teach me in the coming years, and never in a hundred years could I have imagined to feel blessed by it.
Yes, I feel blessed for my illness. That sounds crazy, I know, but hear me out. There are things I’ve learned from my experience; ones that have shaped and molded me over the years to be the person I am today. I am stronger and wiser than I once was, and I owe it all to the unexpected blessings that came from living with fibromyalgia.
I am healthier.
Wait a minute – healthier?! Yep! Healthier. Sounds contradicting. How did I become healthier while living with an illness? Simple. I became more aware of my body and what was happening to it, in it, and around it. When everything you come into contact with has a direct or indirect impact on your body, you develop a heightened awareness to it.
Listen, I used to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, drink a sailor under the table, consume large amounts of unhealthy foods, sleep a few hours a day, and on and on. It was horrible the grueling mess I put my body through. Of course, I did stop many of those habits when Tim and I discussed starting a family; however, I substituted the smoking and drinking with food. Lots and lots of food.
While learning about fibromyalgia, it was apparent there was a direct link to what I put into my body. Put in bad stuff and I would have a flare in symptoms. Put in good stuff and I would start to feel better. It took years to determine what I could and could not eat, and is something I still have to tweak to this day. Read more about eating and fibromyalgia.
There were also indirect links between what was happening around me and my health. I noticed when I was around positive people and situations, I felt better mentally. This pushed me to become more aware of who was surrounding me and how they impacted my life. That is how I created personal boundaries and kept the good in and the bad out. It made a drastic difference in my life.
Overall, my health has taken a complete turnaround for the better and I am living my life healthier now with an illness than I did in all my years prior to the first onset of symptoms.
I am more compassionate.
It may or may not come as a surprise, but I use to be completely selfish, indifferent to others, and did what I wanted when I wanted. I didn’t care about the consequences of living the way I was living. I could blame it on being young and carefree, but that just isn’t true. I was plain unappreciative to life and was focused on my small piece of the world in which was only me. It was a horrible way to be, and often times it’s embarrassing.
There’s a saying about not being truly grateful for what you have until it’s gone. That couldn’t be more true with me. When I could no longer live the life I had been living, I became aware of the world around me. Gone was the ease of living day to day being carefree and doing as I pleased, and in its place was the grueling work of pushing through each minute, hour, day, week. It was absolutely exhausting, but it was also eye-opening.
Even though I was missing all the larger elements of life, I was left with a greater gift: the finer details of it all. I was more attuned to the beauty surrounding me. The world became bigger, brighter, louder than I ever remembered it to be. My eyes started noticing more colors. My ears more sounds. And my heart…my heart opened up to love more, feel more.
When I realized others lived the way I was living with fibromyalgia, I grieved for us and our loss. At the same time, compassion grew within me. Compassion was new to me, and it became addicting. A craving grew within me to connect with others and help them cope with their illness. To help them stop focusing on what we couldn’t do, and focus on what we could do: live. Compassion took on a whole new meaning and continues to fuel my passion.
*Here are books I recommend to better yourself with kindness, courage, and more by Dr. Rebecca Ray. Her first book, Be Kind, has helped me through many difficult situations and has helped me to develop many great qualities including compassion.
I am more outspoken.
Six years passed between the time I first began experiencing fibromyalgia symptoms and the diagnosis of it. In those six years, I say yes to everything. If anyone asked any favor of me, I always complied. It didn’t matter how I was feeling, how much time it involved, or how much agony I would be in to complete that favor. I always said yes.
I said yes because I couldn’t speak my feelings. Couldn’t, wouldn’t, and didn’t know how. And because I always said yes, I was usually angry at myself for agreeing to it. I wanted to say no, but I didn’t know how to speak up for myself. I knew how to speak up to protect my kids, but that did not extend to include me.
To say no meant going against another’s wishes regardless of the cost. It didn’t matter that their favor was paid by my suffering. However, once I realized the price I was paying and the impact it was having on my health, I put an end to it.
After learning to create personal boundaries, it came to my attention that I would need to uphold those boundaries I so carefully established. These boundaries would mean diddly squat if I couldn’t enforce them. That is how I became outspoken, and it surely didn’t stop there.
Being outspoken moved beyond rejecting favors when I couldn’t. It extended to doctor appointments, our family’s health, communicating with others, and advocating. Most importantly, I spoke up for myself. It’s still a work in progress as I gain new experiences and face new situations regularly, but my voice is there loud and clear.
I am more me.
When I was living in those years prior to healing, I lived in pain and suffering. But worse than the suffering was the inability to be me. Who I was as a person was placed to the side in a desperate attempt to get through each passing day. Days of fulfilling others’ requests, of trying to keep up with ‘normal, healthy’ people, of doing what society deemed necessary of a mom and wife, on and on. It was eating away at me, being this person that wasn’t me.
Eventually, I could no longer tolerate it. I wasn’t cut from the same cloth as others, and I needed to accept that if I was going to truly heal. It was difficult, but slowly I learned to stop saying yes, comparing myself to others, and doing what I thought others wanted me to do as a mom and wife. I replaced it with my own thoughts, feelings, and actions.
No, I don’t always have the right thoughts, feelings, and actions, but you know what? That’s a part of learning who I am and being true to myself. And I never stop learning about me. With each day I’m placed in a different situation – some positive and others negative – and I experience a new thought or feeling or way to act. Most days I love me. And some days, honestly, I dislike me. That’s how life goes for me – waxes and wanes, ebbs and flows. Moving with the water inside of me, shaping who I am and who I will be later in life. And those days where I might not like who I am? That’s the storm raging. Like all storms, no matter how loud the thunder, how bright the lighting, or how torrential the downpour of rain, it will pass. It will move aside allowing the sun’s rays to brighten the day and fill me with its warmth. A true unexpected blessing in its purest form.
There are many more unexpected blessings from my illness not listed. I am more aware of my surroundings, feelings, limits, and thoughts. I am more patient and listen more than I used to. In a big way, it has made me a better wife and mom, too. It’s not always easy to find the good in a bad situation, much less finding a blessing from it. However, sometimes the only choice we have is to look at our situation from a different perspective as a necessity to survive and a drive to thrive.