Back in the spring of 2011, I was having lunch with a friend and discussing my intention to write Chronic Resilience: 10 Sanity-Saving Strategies for Women Coping with the Stress of Illness. She asked me, “Do you really want to be known as ‘the chronic illness girl’?” At the time, absolutely. I had a lot to share around this topic and felt that opening up a conversation about the realities of living with a chronic illness would be beneficial for me and for the women who would read Chronic Resilience. Yet, even in that determination, I knew I was taking a risk.
Writing Chronic Resilience would mean that I would need to focus on the parts of myself that were hurting. I would need to explore emotions around pain, diagnosis and a lifetime of medications. I would need to amplify those experiences to look at them from all angles to find out what it true, valuable and empowering. When I looked in these dark, intimidating places, I did see that smack in the middle of pain you could find power. And that acceptance wasn’t giving in, but a way to shift your focus away from what you can’t control and toward what you can. I learned new ways to manage my symptoms. I also connected with lots of other amazing health warriors committed to working life around their illness instead of letting illness take over. These were the gifts that came from allowing myself to be “the chronic illness girl.”
I have now had a kidney transplant. I let myself need healing and I provided the time and space for recovery. I have adjusted to living immune suppressed and to taking my new regimen of medication. I am ready to be something other than “the chronic illness girl.” I am ready to see myself as healthy.
No, I’m not as healthy as most people. But for me, I’m doing pretty dang good. It is time to amplify the aspects of myself that are not dealing with medication, doctors and side effects. The medical stuff can still be there. It is embraced and accepted as the miracle that saved my life, but it no longer has to be how I identify myself. It is only one aspect of the tapestry that comprises my whole.
It is time to practice what I’ve preached in Chronic Resilience, chapters 2 and 3. I had to let my illness take over for a bit to write about it and then to heal from it, but now it is time to explore my values and goals that have nothing to do with kidney disease.
What if we committed fully to seeing ourselves as healthy? Even when we have some pain or have to make it to the doctors by 2, we knew that we were more than a diagnosis. Could we make space for our health and for everything else that brings us joy? Could we talk about what we cope with and still know that we are so much more?
I know that we can. I know that healthy is a state of mind. One that it is time to choose. Let’s both, me and you, focus on the resilience part of chronic resilience.