Finding happiness with Chronic Illness

When we think of being happy, many of us think of reaching the big life goals such as the perfect job, spouse, house, car and family situation. When we reach one goal, we are overcome with happiness for a short while till we strive for the next. Everything is to come one after another, THEN we will be happy. By meeting pressures put on us both socially and personally we can find this “happiness” and be seen as successful.

Throughout the years living with a chronic condition, I have tried my hardest to meet the goals above to be “happy”. If my disease prevented or delayed me from achieving any, a deep sense of sadness and failure entered my heart.

But what if in this crazy life, you find happiness in the most imperfect situation? If you were to tell people exactly what was happening, they would be sympathetic and maybe even cry for you. However in reality, the sequence of events and outcomes has just been so perfect (for you) that you can’t help but be happy and ready to tackle anything to come.

How is it possible to find even an ounce of happiness when you’re fighting a battle with your body? Well, here’s the thing. It’s not easy and it takes A LOT of learning. But here are a few ways chronic illness has helped me find it.

Finding the beauty in everything. Whilst I was in hospital one January it snowed heavily but luckily I had a bed beside the window. Lying in bed, I watched the beautiful glittery hills, when I finally went outside for a walk (attached to my feed which my husband kindly wheeled along for me) I stood outside in the snow wearing flip flops to feel the coldness and THAT felt beautiful. Nothing beats fresh air and the crisp coldness of snow. Would I have appreciated that if I hadn’t been indoors for a week? Probably not.
A walk in the park pain free, having the energy to have a cooking lesson with your mummy, being able to meet friends for last minute coffee dates are all so precious when you’ve spent the last 3 months curled up on the sofa or a hospital bed.

Learning true gratitude by realising what an amazing support network of family and friends you have. Living with a chronic condition is not fun and being around that person is sometimes not fun either. When you really are at your worst state, that’s when you know who the gems in your life are. Being brutally honest, in the past these situations have upset me as I focused on the people who weren’t around when I expected them to be. But that was just MY mistake. Remove expectations from absolutely everyone, even the person you were there for in their time of need. Now I know what some of you will be thinking, you shouldn’t be doing things for others and expecting something  in return. But in reality, what if you spoke to someone regularly whilst you were well and fun to be around, and then they didn’t keep in touch whilst you are unwell for months? It’s a much harder pill to swallow than any pill the nurse will give you in your hospital bed. But by letting it go, it will make you see those who ARE there for you in an amazing light and that appreciation will just fill your heart with love and joy.

Look after yourself. You may go through periods where you are not be able to do everything as before and that’s okay, take that extra nap/day off to heal your body and do not feel guilty about it. These days are not “wasted”, they are being used to help your healing. If there are negative people or environments you come across that may hinder your healing, respectfully limit them as much as possible.

Be honest when people ask you if you are feeling “better” but you are really having a rough day/week/month and have forgotten what better actually feels like. The fake “I’m fine” is not useful to you or your loved ones who want to help you, let them in and let out how you’re feeling. Chronic illnesses are more than often invisible, we may look fine but are far from it.

Be selfish. If you need a break, take a break. If you want to be left alone, be alone. Not worrying about what expectations other people have of YOU will free up so much time and energy you really need for yourself.

Realise that your story is unique. Don’t compare your life with other people, not even others with the same disease as each and every one of us has a unique story. We all have our individual gifts, strengths and weaknesses, it’s up to us to find them and work on them to better ourselves.

When you can, be the person that cares. Allow your experiences to help you grow as a person and be more empathetic towards people, even if you don’t fully understand what they are going through. Be part of someone else’s amazing support network. THAT is a goal far greater than anything materialistic we are guilty of trying so hard to attain.

Shehnaz Bashir RD

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