Thought Point: On Finding Meaning through Chronic Illness

When you have a chronic illness, you’ll inevitably hit a point where your mental health starts to suffer. No one likes to be limited by factors outside of their control, and living with ongoing health problems is the pinnacle of just that: a steady, uncompromising burden to which you relinquish autonomy. Of course, with certain conditions there are things you can do to minimize the disruption it causes to your day-to-day life; but when all is said and done, it’s still a weight that colours your existence in a significant way. And it’s nearly impossible to have that fact not take a toll on your mental wellbeing.

One aspect I continue to struggle with is making any sense of why I got sick in the first place, and for so long. I don’t get why, a month after starting my third year of university, I came down with a flu-like illness which left my memory significantly impaired (not to mention the other neuropsychiatric manifestations that developed later). It’s been 3.5 years since that occurrence and to say that it’s derailed my life plans, hopes for the future, and sense of self-worth would be an understatement.

I know, it’s dangerous thinking to let yourself be defined by your illness. But I’m stating, just for the record, that it plain sucks to have experienced my intellect and cognitive abilities, with which I used to identify so strongly, be stripped away so unexpectedly.

Okay, complaints aside. The tl;dr up until this point is that the seemingly arbitrary nature of being struck down with illness and suffering its consequences is that it’s easy to lose your footing and get lost in the senselessness of it all.

One remedy to this toxic train of thinking is to restore a sense of meaning in your life. I’ve found that sharing my story with others is a powerful way to do that, whether it be online or in-person. Connecting with others and helping them has always brought me personal fulfillment, and doing so via discussing (the sometimes ugly nature of) personal health is a natural extension of that. No matter who you might have in your life for support (friends, family, significant others), sometimes you just need to hear the words of someone who’s been standing in the same whacky place as you to feel truly comforted. And the experience of being that person for someone else gives back to you in a way that might not be obvious until you’ve had it.

In my experience, understanding that your words have the power to make someone feel less alone, more hopeful, and more motivated to strive for a better life removes the feeling of having a pointless existence and replaces it with a sense of meaning.

Just recently, my local family doctor (who writes my prescriptions in Canada following the recommendations of my American doctor; she’s very sympathetic of my situation, but rather clueless herself as to how to treat me) put me in touch with a patient of hers who has been struggling to find explanations for her symptoms through the Canadian healthcare system. Sharing my story with her was cathartic and like talking to a younger version of myself; suggesting ways for her to move forward with her health gave me a renewed sense of value in the knowledge I have to offer.

When it comes to sharing things online (which I’ve only done more recently), I’ve drawn inspiration from the feeling I get when I read words written by others that hit close to home. I used to lurk in the background, scouring message boards and blogs to find others with similar experiences and to find out what they’ve tried. One of my favourite resources is the Phoenix Rising forum, a place for those with ME/chronic fatigue syndrome and other related illnesses. Contributing to the conversation over there every now and then, together with writing this blog, has been encouraging both for the positive personal interactions as well as the comments that let me know that my words have resonated with others.

sunset, silhouettes, reflections, thought points

Some final thoughts:

  1. Internalizing that your existence is meaningful to others is helpful when you’re struggling with your mental health, particularly when your mind is (falsely) telling you that everything about your existence is pointless. In that state, sometimes you need to look beyond yourself to find a reason to keep going, and that’s okay.
  2. No matter how alone you feel, with 7 billion plus people in the world it’s guaranteed that someone right now is feeling similar to you, and that someone in the future will feel similar to you. Work on getting your story out there (share it in person if you have the opportunity, or post something online). Your personal experience will resonate with someone, meaning more to them than what it might mean to you in the present moment.

Thank you to everyone I’ve interacted with in this journey so far. You’ve helped bring meaning to my life, and because of that I am inspired to keep blogging and documenting my experiences!

Advertisements

20 responses to “Thought Point: On Finding Meaning through Chronic Illness

  1. I know exactly what you mean. I’ve also found being online and connecting with others going through the same or similar things to be invaluable. It just helps you feel less alone. I’ve also found blogging helpful in giving me some kind of purpose again. Great post 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad the message of the post resonated with you! I agree that finding your ‘tribe’ is also a good strategy to keep up your mental health. Thank goodness for the existence of the internet these days and for what it is able to facilitate!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m having a really tough day starting my 5th year with chronic illness, and this post nearly brought me to tears for about the fourth time today. I feel like this could have been written about me! Thank you for helping me feel a little less alone xx

    Liked by 2 people

  3. That’s tough! I’m into my 3rd year of chronic illness and I am finally starting to internalize that I can’t just wait “until I’m cured” to start enjoying life. Life continues to pass by, and I can’t keep pinning my hopes on the generalized notion of a “better tomorrow” because there’s a high chance the future may not turn out the way I envision. You’re never alone;sSending you positive vibes xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing this. I was a long term sufferer of mental illness before my recent diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. It’s left me a bit shaken to say the least and sometimes I feel like I’ll never find my footing. But joining online support groups and reading posts like this are amazingly helpful. I’m not alone. I’m not useless. I’m just a bit different to what I used to be. Thank you for reminding me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad that my words resonated with you! I get where you’re coming from and believe me I’ve been there before, as far as feeling like I’ll never find my footing. But I believe I’m slowly getting to a much better place mentally, and remembering that I’m not alone has been a huge part in the healing process. It’s been wonderful to connect with everyone that I have online!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for stopping by and reading my post! I agree that both mental and physical health are closely linked. It’s hard to keep one intact when the other starts declining. Also thanks for the follow and I look forward to reading your posts! 🙂

      Like

  5. Reblogged this on How I Live Now: Life With ALS and commented:
    This beautiful writer hits on one of the greatest points of pain for people with ALS. We’re all wondering why this mysterious disease with no known cause or cure chose us. Every day, I think, “Why me?” Read on to learn the exact reason I write and how sharing your own story can improve your mental health.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I really connected with your post. As someone who has had Fibromyalgia, Psoriasis (and the psoriatic arthritis that comes with that “package deal”) and now Hypothyroidism, sometimes I feel like a walking bunch of random symptoms and vagueness that defines my life sometimes. Talking about it is SO cathartic and connecting with others who *get it* is so vital. I look forward to reading more from you and thanks for visiting me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading my post! It always makes my day to get feedback like yours and to know that my words are positively impacting others. I can empathize with the feeling of having mysterious symptoms arise and then disappear for awhile, and the uncertainty that causes within yourself. I’m glad that you have found an outlet for your thoughts that works for you 🙂

      Like

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your story here on your blog. And while this entire post was enlightening, your final thought #2 touched my heart. To say that “finding the positive can be a challenge” is an understatement. And we all know it is not easy. But you are proof-positive that it is possible. And I know that you are touching people in ways they never thought possible. Again, all I can say is “Thank You” and please keep putting the one proverbial foot in front of the other. Because, even though sometimes it may not feel that way to you, I truly do believe you are making a difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your words have really touched me; thank you for your encouragement and kindness! With all of life’s challenges (illness or not) it’s easy to feel lost, but I truly believe that connecting with others is helping me to find my footing. Turning towards others rather than away has made a real difference in my life, and it’s my goal to spread that sense of wellbeing I’ve gained to as many people as I can!

      Like

  8. I also shared your inspirational words with my Patients Like Me family with the following comment:
    “Sharing your personal experiences can truly make a difference in someone else’s world, it certainly gives a sense of meaning to my life. Someday this pain will be useful… ”

    Here is my story:

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Share Your Journey – The Digital Picture·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s