I will be 54-years old in February, and I have been sick, literally, from the moment I was born. As an infant I had a milk allergy that went undiagnosed for months while I screamed endlessly (no doubt in excruciating pain), prompting my frazzled mother to tell the pediatrician that she understood why women threw their babies out windows. At eighteen months old I contracted Shingles. Babies don’t get Shingles. But I did. As a preschooler I was treated for mental illness when I started drawing disturbing pictures, but it would be decades before I would finally be (mis)diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. After suffering through a wide variety of childhood illnesses, always experiencing the most severe and unlikely symptoms along with rare and unusual side-effects, a car accident at 16 precipitated the onset of Chronic Migraines. I have vivid memories of making the two-hour drive to the state capital, because that was where the only CAT scan machine in the state was at the time. It would be the first of many such scans I would undergo in my life. My twenties were marked by continued migraines, the onset of an anxiety disorder, struggling with the hypersexuality of (undiagnosed) bipolar disorder – a battle which would rage throughout the next two decades of my life – and the beginnings of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. And that’s all before I hit thirty!
So here I am at almost 54. Some of my current diagnoses include Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Bipolar Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Chronic Migraine, Type II Diabetes. I’m also in the midst of undergoing testing for suspected kidney cancer. Throughout my life, I have spoken of my “battles” with these illnesses. I have said, “I am battling a migraine. I am battling a manic episode. I am battling anxiety.” But you know what? I’m not battling any more. I’m not trying to be a person I never really was – a healthy, energetic person who can make definite plans with friends and will never cancel because she is having a migraine … or a manic episode … or an anxiety attack. That’s not who I am. I am a person who lives with multiple chronic illnesses. Sometimes I will need to cancel plans. Sometimes I need to find a quiet place to lie down. Sometimes I need a break from the noise and the crowds. I am finally embracing that aspect of myself, so that I can use my years of experience to help and support others.
You see, all that battling can really wear you out. I find that I’m experiencing a quiet peace and calm in embracing and accepting myself where I am. I have – get this – more energy! I’m able to handle my current health crisis (the kidney cancer thing) more calmly and effectively. Yes, I am kind of freaking out, because cancer is, after all, a pretty scary thing to contemplate. But my overall quality of life has improved now that I’m not expending all my energy on battles I can’t win.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t fight to have the absolute best quality of life we can have while living with these illnesses. What I am saying is this -- be nice to yourself. Practice self-care. Say no when you need to, without feeling like you need to make excuses. Don’t just grudgingly accept your limitations. Embrace them!