Staying Positive with Chronic Illness

10 December 2015

Where many other bloggers may be most frequently asked "which lipstick are you wearing?", I'm asked "how do you stay positive with your chronic illness?" It's a question that I get on a daily basis and it's not always an easy one to answer, but you know what - I’m going to give it my best shot!

In my classic ‘Meg Says...’ format, I'm going to offer some adjectives and explain how they've helped me to cope and keep a smile on my face in the face of chronic illness - and I really hope that they'll help you, too.

what's happened
If, like me, you can remember a time when life was 'normal' and you didn't have to think about hospitals or pacing or medication, it feels extremely strange to go from being an active person to a disabled person. That moment for me was when I became too unwell to stay at university and had to go on medical leave from my degree; it seemed like one moment I was living in a city far away from home with new people, studying and enjoying youth and then the next I was trapped in a body that didn't function properly, unable to even sit up in bed. It took a long time to be able to accept that, but eventually I did - and anger at what had happened to me became one less thing I had to worry about. With ME, the more you 'push' the more you'll suffer and it's an illness that absolutely needs to be fought mentally not physically - and the sooner I realised that, the better. Accepting your diagnosis isn’t always the easiest of things however, so if you're not ready to accept just yet...

to your limitations
Adjusting is one of the best things you can do, for both your body and your mind. Personally, it was the realisation that I wasn't defined by what I could no longer do that truly helped me. It meant that I was looking forwards instead of backwards - I quit pining after what I used to be able to do and focused on what I could do at present. I stopped thinking "I'm not doing my degree, I'm useless" or "I've had to move back home, I've lost my independence" and started thinking "I can now read a few lines of a book per day" and eventually "I just washed my hair by myself for the first time in forever". Things weren't the way they used to be and I would wish for the 'old days' before Meg became MEg - see what I did there, hey! - but it only made me feel worse, and adjusting to my body's new needs helped to counteract that loss.

progress, even the tiniest of baby steps
I say "baby steps" because that's often what progress means with chronic illnesses, it's a long and slow journey that would be a cha-cha if it were a dance thanks to all of the steps backwards and then forwards that you'll take along the way. One tip is to celebrate those tiny improvements - and I genuinely mean with a candle in a cupcake if that's your thing - as we're not miraculously going to wake up one day magically 'cured', but you made yourself a cup of tea on your own for the first time in a year? Heck yes! Celebrate it. You couldn't do that at one point, and now you can. My friend Hayley (from Hayley-Eszti) and I go crazy with the party emojis every time one of us manages to leave the house, and my grandparents send "we heard you managed to sleep for a full night!" cards. I know how it feels to be completely up to your eyeballs in frustration at the fact that you could do these things aged eight, but it does nothing for your positivity levels to constantly beat yourself up that you can't do something. It's not your fault, and you deserve to happily punch the air every time you sip a cuppa that was made for you, by you. It's progress, and every little helps!

thankfulness and gratitude
It's easy to slip into a 'what have I got to be grateful for?' mindset. I've been there and it sucks. I don't want to call it a 'pity party' as that seems a little insensitive, you've got a chronic illness and you have every right to be completely distraught about that. It's not a minor problem that'll go away if you think enough positive thoughts or something that'll 'blow over'. Although we chronically ill folk can't shout our appreciation for our glowing health from the rooftops, however, what we can do is acknowledge our appreciation for the good things in life that we still have. It could be something big like "I'm ill but my family are amazingly supportive" or "I'm ill but I've still got a roof over my head and food to eat" or something smaller but whatever it is, know that you're still lucky in other aspects of your life. I'm not a big fan of the whole 'it could be worse' thing that people like to tell you a lot, but it doesn't hurt to count your blessings and be thankful for what you've got.

the bad moments
I think this is an important one. As we talked about in the introduction, people ask me all the time how I stay so positive and I might be having one of my worst days when they poise that question - I might be in anguish behind the computer screen and in hot, frustrated tears that life is like this and that there's not a whole lot I can do about it. Everyone has 'em and it's impossible for anyone to smile 100% of the time, so just know that you're normal if you have those low points where you hate your illness and you're angry at the world that it happened to you. It's an infrequent occurrence for me, which I'm really thankful for, but when it happens I just like to embrace it and indulge in it, almost. There's not much anyone can say to make me feel better - and sometimes you don't even want to feel better - so I just tuck myself in, stick something good on Netflix, grab some chocolate and feel awful. It's what I need and I always feel relieved after.

hopeful and optimistic
Not as simple as it sounds and a lot easier said than done but when all else is lost, hope remains. You never expect something like chronic illness to happen to you, and when it does you’re left with nothing but answers about the future. Often those are unanswerable questions, so instead maybe we should simply look at our future with hope. I think it’s really important to bear in mind how you far you’ve come and also, what you’ve overcome. Take your age and tell yourself, “you know what? In [insert age here] years and so far, there hasn’t been anything that I haven’t overcome”. It’s simple but powerful - you’re still here, whatever has happened to you hasn’t beaten you and you’ve always gotten back up after you’ve fallen, even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes. Keep going, as you always have. It might be really, really hard but... you got this.

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