Monday, April 30, 2018

Having A Chronic Illness Has Taught Me About Life

At 29 years of age I thought I had life all worked out. I was a few years into the teaching career I had always envisioned for myself, I'd married my high school sweetheart and I had a wonderful group of friends and a supportive family. I often thought to myself that anything was possible, as up until that point my life had proved to me that with hard work and dedication I could achieve my desires. I was unstoppable and on my way to a life of security, success and happiness.

But I was wrong . . .

Suddenly I became ill. I constantly felt exhausted, was had double
vision and felt like I wasn't in control of my body. I started falling over, I could hardly chew my food at dinner and people noticed my smile By Jessica Dunbar

and eyes were droopy at times.

After countless specialist visits and medical examinations over a six-month period, doctors told me that I had myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune disease that I'll most likely have to deal with for the rest of my life.

The disease means that at any time my muscles can just shut down, and that includes those needed to speak, walk and breathe. I constantly have double vision as a result of the illness and get very easily fatigued from simple activities. At my worst I couldn't even chew and swallow my food or brush my teeth unassisted at times.

After my diagnosis, suddenly my world began to stop. I'd worked so hard up until this point and now this condition had entered my life that I had no control of and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

I spiralled thinking about how unfair life can be and what I did to deserve such a crappy deal. But this spiral caused me to realise I needed to take significant steps to support my mental health.

Because I was no longer able to work, I focused on my physical rehabilitation along with my mental rehab. I slowly started to realise that although I might not have control of the antibodies in my bloodstream I did have control over how I faced this challenge.

Suddenly I saw this as an opportunity to re-evaluate my life up until this point, and what it could still be. It was this first "aha moment" that started to get me feeling some sort of hope again.

I considered how everyone has their own battles and can choose to deal with them in ways that can promote the positive of a situation or the negative. I no longer wanted to be in that negative place and wanted to see how far a positive attitude could get me.

I saw this as an opportunity to re-evaluate my life up until this point, and what it could still be.
I realised that my life up until that point had been a blur of failures, successes, milestones and people. I thought I had a clear image of who I was before I got ill but it was only after that I saw that I had been taking everything for granted.

I wasn't really appreciating all life was offering I was just racing from one thing to another not taking time to really enjoy the ride. I use to complain about how tired I was after a long day at work and now I think about the incredible gift that it was to have health to work that hard.

Instead of racing from appointment to appointment, I now ensure my time and energy is being carefully preserved and take notice of the things I come across during my day. I have noticed more sounds, sells, sights, tastes and feelings — being chronically ill I've been forced to take it easier than I ever was before rushing through my busy days.

These days my health is significantly improved although I'll never be back to my pre sickness self but I don't mind. I do miss the past but I no longer grieve it in an unhealthy and unproductive way.

I have actively decided that this is just a new version of me with a wealth of new opportunity at my doorstep. Yes, I'll have my limitations but I won't let my mindset stop me from attempting anything I am physically capable of doing.

This attitude has meant I have done things I never would have before like trekking to the top of a Mayan temple in Guatemala to watch the first sunset of the year (with lots of help of course), training to walk long distances again so I could walk the perimeter of the old walls of Dubrovnik and zip line through the Hawaiian jungle.

I now regret that I didn't do these things when I was healthier although I know the old me wouldn't have taken the time to appreciate them as much as I do now. It is sad knowing that some of the things I had previously thought I had all the time in the world to do may now never be possible due to my limitations but I can still work towards them while living the best, healthiest life possible.

While chronic illness means that my future is uncertain I have made a decision that no matter what it holds for me I will always make time to enjoy the journey and make the most of every moment, no matter how small or big it may seem. Nothing in life is certain so why not make the most of now as you can possible.

I am not going to pretend that getting chronically ill hasn't brought some of the most painful, terrifying and horrible times to my life but I can honestly say, that almost two years into this journey, I have also had some of the most amazing moments. I have met people I would have never met, realised things I would never have realised and done things I would never have believed I could do.

Most importantly I have become a better and stronger version of myself because of what chronic illness has forced me to learn about life.

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