The Gifts of My Diagnosis
When you live with a chronic illness, it’s easy to focus on the challenges it brings. Our abilities change, we have to make time to see doctors and manage symptoms, and we often lose some freedom and flexibility in our lives. Most of the conversation we have in the chronic illness community is about how to come to terms with this. It’s been so important for me to express those feelings of frustration with people who know firsthand what I am dealing with.
But today, I want to talk about some of the gifts of my diagnosis. In doing so, I hope to inspire you to identify some good that has come from yours. I’ve certainly had periods of time where I couldn’t even begin to think about the positives of ankylosing spondylitis. The mere suggestion to look on the bright side felt hurtful. But over time, as I’ve been forced to grow and stretch myself in new ways to live with this condition, I’ve developed new skills, perspectives, and strength.
I learned radical acceptance
A chronic illness is something we wouldn’t choose for ourselves. Suffering, especially, forces us to accept what we cannot control—in a big way. There are many situations in life, big and small, where we are faced with the loss of control—from death and job loss, to smaller everyday disappointments such as being let down by a friend or partner. I’ve learned that, while it’s okay and even necessary to feel all of my emotions, I will never be able to wish AS away. And the same goes for any less than ideal situation in my life.
As a teacher of mine once said, reality wins 100% of the arguments it gets into. Lamenting what my life could have been if I had never received this diagnosis is a waste of time. It’s like lamenting the fact that it’s raining instead of grabbing an umbrella. Work with the situation, not against it. I apply that rule to every life situation now.
I started focusing on ALL aspects of my health
My diagnosis immediately redirected my focus, energy, and time to my health. It was necessary because, like most people, I often relied on convenience foods, didn't get enough sleep, worked long hours, and didn't make enough time for self-care. I also had porous boundaries with people who stressed me out and didn't assert my needs enough. So I overhauled my lifestyle to improve my health.
I made diet improvements, met with new doctors (both traditional and alternative), had tests run, and started taking vitamins and supplements. I tried acupuncture, began talk therapy, and read self-development books. It wasn't smooth sailing through all of these changes, but getting into a routine of caring for myself has made me a better, more well-rounded person. And when life inevitably gets stressful and my self-care suffers, I am able to bring myself back to it much more quickly.
I began deeply appreciating good days
It's totally cliché but that doesn't make it any less true: Bad days have made me really, really appreciate good days. Because AS prevents me from being active at times, the days I'm able to be out and about running errands, go out to dinner, or take long walks feel exciting. I feel endlessly grateful when my body feels strong enough to complete an exercise video. I'm thrilled to be able to do things that I used to take for granted. You know that saying—"enjoy the little things, because one day you'll look back and realize they were the big things"? That's what AS has shown me more than anything.
How long was your longest flare?