Having a chronic illness life defining! I believe anyone that has lived life with one will tell you that is the case.
How many times have you heard someone say “don’t let it define you!” My question to them is how can it not define me? It is with me 24/7 it impacts on what I can do in a day, how I interact with others and yes it has changed me. I know what they are trying to say and I appreciate the attempt at motivation, however I believe they are actually trying to say “don’t let it rule you” or “don’t let it dictate your outcomes” or even “you still have choices”. If someone said any of those to me I would think they understood what it means to have a chronic illness a little better.
My chronic illness does define me, it plays a role in defining most aspects of my life. To a certain extent I can do things to control my symptoms but there are days when I can’t. There are days when my chronic illness actually motivates me and gives me strength. There are days when it is my undoing and beats me into submission. There are days when it reminds me how lucky I am to have beautiful things and beautiful people in my life. There are days it makes me angry and puts me on the war path with the entire world. However there is one thing my chronic illness can not define, my choices. No matter what my symptoms, I can choose how I respond to them. I can choose if I am going to stay in bed or get out - even briefly. It is my choice if I am going to achieve the goals I set myself. It is my choice if I am going to be there for the ones I love, even if it is just a listening ear on the phone or a hug from my reclined position on the lounge. It is my choice how much I learn about my illness and treatment options. It is my choice what treatment path I agree to. It is my choice how much I get out of life, even it is not what I originally envisioned. It is my choice how much fun I have despite the obstacles that present themselves. It is my choice if I give in.
Sometimes my choices are the wrong ones. Sometimes my choices mean I fail. Getting things incorrect and even failing I can accept in my life. I cannot accept not even trying. Everyone has obstacles in life, some larger than others but the wonderful thing about being human is while we are in this world we have choice and there are very few conditions in which we do not have choices.
I know people will be saying I don’t have a choice when it comes to things such as depression that may arise from my chronic illness. You can still choose to seek help, to seek a better outcome. I know at times the choices are limited but they are still there and they lead to new and more choices. At times it feels as though you have completely lost control of your life but remember you still have a choice, even if it is just to smile at a loved one, to find comfort in your faith or to go for a walk outside in the sun. Making choices is a way of taking back some control.
I believe one of the reasons we struggle to find the choices we do have in life is because we haven’t accepted the life that we have been dealt. Without acceptance of the life you have and letting go of what could’ve been you cannot see the opportunities that exist for you in the now. You can have a highly restrictive injury, a chronic or terminal illness and still have a full and positive life. Instead of looking at what you can’t do, you need to look at what you can do now. Instead of focusing on the obstacles you need to look the opportunities. Yes such conditions can take so much from you but if you are open to looking at things differently a full life is still available to you and you still have choices.
My chronic illness does define me but I choose to make it a positive definition. Even on my worst days, my darkest days and nights, I still have a choice. Sometimes that choice is to stay in bed and deal with the negative emotions, symptoms and rest. Sometimes it is to push through the pain and play with my daughter.
My chronic illness has defined me. It has defined my life, my role as a partner, mother, friend, daughter, my career choice, my personal goals. Yes it has taken a lot from me but I choose to build something positive from my lowest point. It has helped me choose the path I want to take in life and that is to build an organisation that will have a positive impact on women’s health; change taboos’ in society surrounding women’s menstrual/reproductive health and empower women to be leaders in their own lives and the lives of others.
When someone tells you not to let your illness or injury define, tell them “It does define me, but how it defines me is my choice and I choose a positive definition”.