I’m a sick grrrl. I have a few rare, incurable, genetic bone and autoimmune diseases — the details of which I won’t bore you with. So far, I’ve had a wrist permanently fused, I’m infertile, and I’m now facing potential amputation if my doctors can’t get my blood flow under control soon.
It’s so easy to slip into a cycle of hating your body when it’s not working properly. It’s easy to feel bitter, alone, resentful and just all-around negative and depressed when your body is unhealthy in ways beyond your control — all of those feelings are completely valid.
Still, sulking is unhelpful. You can choose to dwell on your illness and spiral down into depression, or you can rise above it and not let it get the best of you. I’ve chosen to stay positive and live my life in spite of my diseases, which is totally more easily said than done. Here’s how I do it:
1. Process your diagnosis
Grieve. It’s okay to be sad. It’s normal to be angry. When I was first diagnosed, I felt as though there was suddenly a huge separation between myself and everyone I knew — I was ill, and they were healthy. I felt jealous and bitter, and very alone. Allow yourself to feel these feelings, but don’t get stuck dwelling on them.
2. Stay grateful
Feeling sorry for yourself is fine in small doses, but whenever I start slipping downhill into despair, I remind myself that I need to be grateful that I’ve gotten the care I need. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s a hassle — but I’m alive, and that’s amazing. There are people with my diseases all over the world who can’t get healthcare for one reason or another, and that’s awful. Keeping my situation in perspective helps me to stay positive.
3. Focus on the good
Focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t do. For instance, when my wrist was permanently fused, I felt like an absolute freak of nature, and I had to teach myself to do everything with a now-immobile wrist. I was clumsy and frustrated for about a year, but instead of cursing my wrist and becoming depressed about it, I decided to focus on the things in life that made me happy. I celebrated my small victories — writing by hand again after months of practice, being able to chop vegetables, learning how to type on a keyboard with an immobile wrist. I went out on dates with my husband and just generally did things that made me happy, which brings me to my next tip…
4. Don’t let your diagnosis take over your life
This is often easier said than done, especially when you have an illness that affects every aspect of your life… but you can’t let it become your entire life. You have to move on. You have to keep pushing and decide to live — otherwise, your illness wins and your quality of life suffers.
Nurture your relationships with loved ones, and don’t spend all your time talking about your illnesses. See a therapist if you need help processing your diagnosis — your friends and family are there to support you, but don’t be draining on them. Talk about positive things. Do things that make you happy. Your diagnosis is part of your life, but don’t let it become the star of the show. You are in control. It’s your life. Live it.
5. Self-care, even when you don’t want to
When I was diagnosed with my latest diseases, I went through a period of hating my body. I felt like it had betrayed me. I didn’t want to look at myself. I didn’t want to put on makeup anymore, I lost interest in fashion — I was just filled with loathing for it. Those feelings are valid, but eventually you have to embrace your diagnosis as part of you, but not a defining part. Even if you don’t feel like it, you need to take care of yourself. Eventually, it starts to seem normal again. Hating your body is ultimately illogical and unproductive. It’s sick, and it needs love and nurturing.
Being chronically ill is no fun. It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself. It’s easy to hate your sick body. You may feel angry, unlovable, misunderstood, isolated, etc. I know I felt that way, and I do sometimes still. The important thing is to not let those feelings define you. Give yourself time to process your diagnosis, and move on. Live your life, and take care of yourself even when it seems difficult.
You are so much more than your illness. Stay true to who you are and don’t let it take away all the beautiful things that make you who you are.