eight things i’ve learned from being sick

A listicle for you today.

I was diagnosed with Hashimotos a little over two years ago now. However looking back, the symptoms began much earlier.

Being chronically unwell is an incredibly humbling experience. Everything you think you are, as measured by what you do, is taken away. Work, hobbies, community activities, a social life. All that you are left with is the intense awareness of how loosely you are tied to this earth. Like a balloon in the hand of a child.

On the worst days, it’s all you can do to hold onto the balloon string. Sometimes you need to ask someone else to do the holding.

One of the biggest shocks of being diagnosed with a chronic illness is the realisation that it doesn’t have a clear upward trajectory. Instead of getting rid of the illness, you are aiming to manage it. There isn’t a pill or a treatment that will make it go away. So you start googling. Digging through clinical trials, medical reports and that most unreliable source of medical information- personal blogs.

There are answers waiting to be found. And good doctors who want to help. But it all requires patience, commitment and a good splash of tenacity.

So here goes, what I’ve learned from being sick:

  1. Resilience. Being unwell gets lonely. Not only do you stop doing many of the activities that used to keep you occupied, but the experience of the illness itself is a solitary one. Other people, no matter how much they love and support you, cannot share or change your day to day reality. You have to learn coping strategies pretty quickly.
  2. Independence is overvalued. I don’t know why we’re so obsessed with not needing other people. Because it’s all bollocks. As someone who has fiercely guarded my independence and valued my ability to do things for myself, I now realise how much I was deluding myself. We are all stronger, healthier and happier when we allow ourselves to be part of a community.
  3. You can’t plan your way out. I’m a type A organiser, planner, strategist. I like to know what I’m doing ahead of time. But I’ve now lost count of the number of plans that I’ve had to cancel, change or have simply forgotten because of a flare up in my illness. But that’s life baby! It just happens. It’s messy and beautiful. And it can also be quite frustrating.
  4. A few good friends is better than dozens of acquaintances. The quantity of my social activities (particularly in the evening) has declined, but spending I’m spending more quality time with friends. That being said, I would like to have a dance sometime soon. That is definitely overdue!
  5. Cooking is nourishment. Everyone should know how to cook. I mean everyone. Food preparation isn’t about fancy presentation for a nice instagram snap. Food is life giving and needs to be recognised and respected as a crucial part of our daily lives. We need to take the time to prepare and eat real food. Outsourcing our health never ends well.
  6. Back yourself and trust your gut. I have seen a lot of doctors. Before I was diagnosed I had three GPs in a row inform me that there was nothing wrong with me. One very strongly implied that they thought I was a hypochondriac. After ten minutes and no tests. Thanks buddy! It was the fourth GP who finally did the necessary blood tests and sent me to an endocrinologist for a diagnosis. My second endocrinologist was more helpful than the first and now I’ve just started seeing an excellent integrative GP who is working with me on a more holistic approach to my health. It pays to do your own research and keep going until you find a doctor or team of doctors and health professionals who are committed to helping you become well.
  7. Our bodies are so fragile. When we’re well it’s easy to forget about how vulnerable we humans are. Being sick has forced me to listen to my body. There is a saying that floats around self-help and wellness spheres (it might be Buddhist) that goes something like: first you get a whisper, then you get a tap on the shoulder, then a blow to the head. I got a blow to the head with a four by two in this scenario. Don’t make the same mistake as me.
  8. There is always more. More life. More fun. More love. More to live for and look forward to.

There you have it. I’d love to read your take on this. Do you or someone you know have a chronic illness? What has it taught you?