The most unexpected thing that has come from my ten year journey living with a chronic illness has been how much I’ve gained from it. Had someone told me while I was in the thick of my struggles with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) that I would one day appreciate this nightmare of an experience, I don’t think I would have taken it well. But now that I’m fully recovered, if given the option to have that ten years of struggle magically disappear, I wouldn’t take it. The thought of where I would be now without having had this experience is scarier than the ten years of suffering it took to get me here ever was. And that says a lot, because those ten years were some profoundly scary times.
I’ve read that I’m not alone in this experience and there’s even a term for it - post traumatic growth. It turns out that it’s quite challenging to match that same rapid rate of growth if things are going smoothly.
I have so many things to thank this wretched illness for, it’s hard to even know where to begin. This experience catapulted me off of a path that I was firmly on prior to my illness despite this path not being one that made me happy in any way. Because of this illness I gained the clarity and courage necessary to take risks and find paths better suited to me. I know what’s at stake now, and how easily it can all be taken away. I know that when opportunities come along I need to seize them.
I went from being in a relationship that wasn’t working, living in a city I didn’t like, and working in a career that I found profoundly stressful, to traveling the world, connecting with others in the most meaningful ways, and having more adventure in my life than I ever dreamed possible.
I’d never want anyone to be thankful for illness or struggle, but there’s comfort in knowing that there are silver linings in even the worst of times. If given the opportunity to go back in time and change anything, what I would do is tell myself to work every day to find sources of hope. To remember that even though it feels like things will never get better or change, they can and they will. I’d want my old self to know that it’s ok that I’m struggling, that anyone facing similar challenges would be. I’d tell myself to be more compassionate and kind to myself. To believe in myself and to know that I’ve got this.