Chronic illness. A blessing in disguise?

When I was diagnosed with CFS/ME during my counselling training, I worried every day about when – or even if, I’d get better.

On the better days I would make up for lost time and take the opportunity to do as much as I physically and mentally could, which inevitably ended up as an energy crash a day or two later. I’d be back in bed for a number of days with my body in pain and no energy left in the tank. This vicious cycle is apparently called boom and bust.

Eventually I learned to pace myself but despite managing the condition quite well, getting back to working part time, and my energy levels increasing slowly, I hated the condition. I hated that I had it, that I didn’t know how I’d got it, that the health professionals didn’t know how I’d got it and that there was no known cure for it.

Eventually I also began to realise that I was blaming myself for having an illness, because there was no-one else or nothing else to blame!

The biggest improvements to my health came when I stepped up the self-care, and most importantly learned not to feel guilty for it! I began to accept the condition, that it had changed my life, and that I had to manage it well.

Along came acceptance

Acceptance is a huge part of self-care as it allows us to treat ourselves without feeling guilty. Acceptance helps us to realise that not only is it worth looking after ourselves, but it should become a part of our daily lives.

For those that work in roles helping others, it’s even more important to look after your own wellbeing and treat yourself with kindness before you can fully help others.

Acceptance can also help us to establish who our real friends are as chronic conditions can make us unreliable. We have to cancel plans at the last minute due to a flare up of our condition and/or anxiety around leaving the house. Friends are the ones that understand. They’ll come to you if you’re struggling and often schedule a Plan B if the original plan doesn’t quite work out.

Having a chronic condition can sometimes mean that it takes us longer to complete tasks than we’d like, and as a result life automatically slows down for us. Rather than comparing ourselves to others and becoming frustrated, we can accept our limitations and do these things at our own pace instead.

This actually allows us to be more in the moment or present with everything that we do, and is especially useful when listening to others. Being mindful and practicing mindfulness can also help to ease or prevent anxiety and/or depression, so why not take more time to savour the current moment?

The final note

I’m now the most organised that I’ve ever been in my life. I write a daily To Do list, I set reminders, create weekly menus, write down longer terms plans and most importantly, I don’t give myself a hard time if I let things slip on occasions.

Would I have been so organised, self-accepting, guilt-free, mindful, empathetic and understanding without the CFS/ME? As a counsellor in training I was taught the importance of these skills, but living with a chronic illness has thankfully forced these skills upon me. This is why I can now see it as a blessing in disguise.

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