Accepting Chronic Illness: A Self-Reflection Worksheet
"You think you know ... but you have no idea."
– MTV’s Diary (2001-2014)
Last week’s post on acceptance had me thinking more deeply about what chronic illness looks like from an outsider’s perspective — even to another chronic illness warrior. Case in point: My reaction to a friend saying I cope well. It was a total shocker. I had NO idea I was being seen as a person with a chronic illness who wore rose-coloured glasses.
After 15 years of daily struggles, it became ingrained in my mind I was not a “healthy” person, and to me, this meant I was incapable of coping.
Fast-forward to now and I know that’s not true. However, the roots of that belief still sprout in my brain from time to time. That’s ok. I accept that. It’s part of chronic illness — some days my view is going to be from behind sunglasses, most of the time I’ll be wearing my clear, honest lenses and yes, there are moments for rose-coloured glasses when you need to fake it to make it.
What it all boils down to, is what others see and what you see yourself. A “This is what you see, but if you really knew me…” contrast. The difference is often vast and the results are life changing — just like the momentous occasion of accepting your chronic illness for what it is.
For me, the process of discovering what was going on deep down inside compared to what I was showing to the world was a somber experience. For homework one week, my counselor had me make two lists: One for all the things I thought people saw me as or knew me for and one for how I saw myself. When I came back two weeks later to review my findings, it was obvious one list was a lot longer and more negative than the other. It doesn’t take much to guess which one was which.
My “This is what you see” list had 15 words/thoughts.
[Hope, smiles, gratitude, giving, Instagram, blogging, laughs, events, recipes, love, compassion, responsibility, products, friendship, positivity]
My “But if you really knew me…” list had 27. Almost double!
[Stress, pain, exhaustion, insomnia, extreme sadness, depression, feeling like a burden, desperate, racing thoughts, overwhelmed, sick and tired, alone, missed days/weeks/months, hopeless, endless appointments, loss, grief, loneliness, let down, memory loss, brain fog, anxiety, worry, muscle tension, nausea, crazy]
The results scared me shitless. I could not believe how much more weight and value those words and thoughts had in my mind over the outward impression I was exuding. I felt nauseous knowing how much time I had wasted focusing on those emotions and symptoms. Though they were all valid, there was absolutely NO reason for the bad to overcome the good. Those feelings were holding me back from even greater acceptance and calmness.
Once I took a step back and looked at that sheet of paper a few days after writing it, as heartbroken as I was, my counselor reminded me there was another list I could write. A list of all the things about me that might not be present on the outside, but were still positive, beautiful things found inside me.
[Strength, resiliency, a support system, perseverance, hard working, adaptable, empathetic, clever, observant, willing to change, integrity, soulfulness, candour, positive growth, thoughtful, open-minded, bold, tenacious, forgiving, courage, brave]
Those 21 words (which the last five I had to push myself to find), brought to light the person I really am with or without chronic illness. Some of them I learned through migraine, depression and anxiety, but most are inherently me.
They reaffirmed in my mind and heart that I am not my chronic illness. Migraine, depression and anxiety are only a part of me, not all of me. Combined with my first list, I have 36 AMAZING things to showcase to the world each day. And through this exercise and self-reflection, they now hold more power in my soul than the 27 thoughts and feelings that previously took hold of me.
Acceptance has brought me the serenity to embrace the 27 realities I face while celebrating the 36 reasons I have to keep living a worthy life each day.
A Lush Life, that is <3