On Chronic Illness, Suffering & How to make Limitation your Super-Power
The first time I read the word "chronic" in one of the papers from the hospital, I didn't really take notice.
I was in the bottom half of the depths of despair, and having the professionals see me as a chronic case didn't mean anything to me, because in my own mind, I was hopeless – and they were just confirming what I already knew with my whole heart.
I say knew with emphasis, not just because I am speaking of my knowledge back then, but because it is also something I don't believe any longer.
In fact, reading through the documents again, I have to stop and catch my breath when I come across the word "chronic" because seeing the word in print makes me really, really angry. It's hard for me to understand how medical professionals can dismiss you and your whole hope of healing with such ease, based upon a short consultation. I get so angry because basically what they were saying was this: Our treatment can't help you. We can't help you. You are unhelpable.
It is such a disempowering statement.
And I believed them for a very long time.
I can't say for certain when and what changed, but on my healing journey there came a time when I was done being and feeling like a victim of modern healthcare. Along the way, I came upon this symbolic crossroads where I had to choose between living a life feeling like shit – or living the life that I wanted. Needless to say, I chose the latter.
Choosing to live the life of my dreams required one very basic shift in mindset: Instead of believing and trusting in my doctors, I had to prove them wrong.
There came a time when I not only had to take my power back – my personal power, and the power over my health – but also do all the things that "they" thought I couldn't do. The things that I thought I couldn't do.
And so began the journey into health.
You may expect that this is where I write about all the alternative medicine and nutritional secrets that magically healed my illness. Ain't gonna happen, I'm sorry. Because there are no tricks up my sleeve and I am not selling a new lifestyle-diet-slash-magical-cure.
What made the biggest difference for me and my "chronic" illness was asking myself this one question:
How can you make this limitation your super-power?
It's the question that changed me, moved me, and set me free – and one I still ask myself every time I have a (now rare) flare-up of the illness that most people – including me – once thought would eventually be the end of me.
How can I make this illness my super-power?
To me, asking that question means this: It's a way for me to turn my mind around from hopelessness and suffering to opportunity and possibility. Because although it may be hard to believe, there is opportunity in every situation, if only you look for it.
Believe me, I'll be the first to acknowledge that this isn't easy. If you had asked me that question when I was in the midst of my feeling-sorry-for-myself-sobfest, I would probably have punched you in the face, for real. But only because the question hits too close to home. At its core, it's about taking responsibility for your life, and that is hard. It's one of the hardest things we can ever do.
Here's the trick though. Even if you answer the question and identify the opportunity, it is still okay to stay in bed feeling sorry for yourself. You don't have to do anything. But you might feel slightly less hopeless knowing that there are opportunities, even if you don't seize them right away.
For me, making my illness my superpower has not only made my quality of life – with illness – much higher, but it has made my physical and mental health better too. There is a lot of power in positive thinking. First of all, my illness isn't "chronic" anymore. I am getting better slowly, but surely. Everyone on my treatment team (including me) believe that I will one day be completely healthy and healed.
The simple shift in mindset from trying to work against my limitations – to flowing with them, has changed the game completely. For me, that looks like basing my livelihood on income that is flexible enough for me to do it from bed, while on the other hand, being able to work as much as I want on better days. It means that I have a very unique ability to work with clients on a whole different level than those who don't have this kind of experience. It means that I can do motivational speaking gigs with very fundamental authenticity. It means that I can write from the deep places in me that resonate with those deep places in you.
For you, it may look entirely different. But as a starting point, you can ask yourself these questions:
1. What can I change in my life to go from fighting to embracing and flowing with this limitation?
2. What work does living with this condition make me uniquely qualified to do?
3. What have I learned, and what can I learn from this?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments!
I am writing this piece from bed this evening. For the past two days, I have been feeling unwell and unable to do my regular work. At first I was feeling sorry for myself, complaining to my friends and trying to make it go away using every ailment in my skill-set. And then I remembered to make this flare-up my super-power.
So today I am chronic-illness-girl.
Able to write empowering blog posts from the comfort of my own bed.
I can fly from crappy to happy in a single bound.
And I can relate to your chronic illness,