When you’re diagnosed with a long-term, chronic illness, it’s incredibly hard to get your head around it and manage it. I was so exhausted after my diagnosis of M.E./Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) that I barely took on what this meant for my life. I was completely numb and just wanted the whole thing to be over with as quickly as possible.
Deep down, though, I knew that this illness had come to me for a reason. I was 18, had just started university and was struck down at what was supposed to be the most exciting time of my life. It took years of soul-searching and reading to figure this out, but I’ve finally realized what CFS has to teach me.
1. Illness is always there to teach you something.
This is sometimes the hardest thing to accept when you’re ill, and I know lots of people might find this concept difficult to grasp. I realized after being ill for a long time that I was petrified of standing up and being myself. Doing the same thing as everyone, slogging my guts out working stupid amounts of hours a week just wasn’t going to cut it for me. I had to change my attitude and outlook, so I could change my health and my future.
Without this realization, I’d probably still be chronically ill and wouldn’t be speaking to you today. Write down everything you felt before your illness and everything you’re feeling during your illness; see what messages you can find in your words.
2. It’s no good blaming your body for illness — this impedes healing and makes you bitter.
I went through this in the early stages of my illness as well, directing questions at my body like, "What’s the matter with you? Why aren’t you working properly?" Your body will respond to you, but with more pain, lethargy and numbness.
Your mind and your body are inextricably linked. If you’re sending conscious or unconscious messages to your body saying that it’s not working properly, then it’s probably not going to work properly. If, even in illness, you thank your body and feel positive, loving thoughts towards it, your body will respond in a positive way. You might not experience instant healing, but with consistent action, you’ll feel better and your body will heal.
3. If people care about you and your health, they’ll stick around; don’t worry about their reactions.
I was absolutely petrified that I’d lose all my friends during my illness, as I hardly had the energy to sit up in bed, never mind socialize. The ones who didn’t really understand what was going on fell by the wayside. I fought really hard to keep them, but I knew I had to let them go. I know now that this was someone’s way of letting even better and more supportive friends into my life, and I’m so grateful to friends both old and new for the stories we’ve shared and what I’ve learned from them. Don’t worry about what others think — it's not selfish to look after yourself and prioritize your healing.
4. Gratitude is the key to forgiving and healing.
Once you realize how much you have to be grateful for, you'll come to see how rich and abundant you are, even if your health doesn’t seem to be reflecting that. A warm bed, a roof over your head, bird song, hot tea, a loving family — once you start a list, it’s difficult to stop. You become overwhelmed with gratitude and love for your life.
Similarly, forgiveness can really speed up your healing. Even if you can’t forgive what a person did, try hard to forgive the person herself. Separate the act from the person. We’re only human and make mistakes. This includes forgiving yourself, and for me this was far and away the hardest part of the process. Once I stopped berating myself for being ill and forgave myself, I felt a huge weight had been lifted from my mind and body.
I’m so incredibly grateful to my illness for teaching me where I was going wrong and how to improve my life. I truly believe that I would never have reached this point without it, and for that, I’m truly grateful. It's in our darkest moments that we can discover our brightest light.