11 Benefits of Living with Chronic Illness & Autoimmune Disease

Anna Emotional Healing, Faith, Living Well with Autoimmune Disease 26 Comments

Living Well with Autoimmune Disease: 11 Benefits of Living with Chronic Illness & Autoimmune DiseaseLiving with chronic illness and autoimmune disease (like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Lupus) has really thrown a big fat wrench into my life.

And on top of it, I married someone who also has an autoimmune disease (Celiac Disease) and Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency as a result.

And let me tell you, it hasn’t been a quick fix.  For either of us.

Over the past decade, everything has changed.  I mean it too.

EVERYTHING.

What foods we eat, what products we buy and use, our relationship with God, our relationships with family and friends, how much stuff we own, how we spend our money, what types of doctors we work with, how we talk to those doctors, how we plan vacations, how we raise our kids, and even how we go to the bathroom (see the Squatty Potty).  Just to name a few.

It’s a total life-over (you know, like a makeover).

You could probably even say that our lives revolve around managing our illnesses.  It’s a full-time job with no days off.

And yet… here I stand, grateful for the inconvenience of being chronically ill.  Our autoimmune diseases have been, without a doubt, one of our BIGGEST blessings.

So let me tell you why.

Because, maybe (hopefully) you’ll see the benefits, too!

1.) You learn how to become less offendable.

If you’ve ever experienced chronic fatigue, you know that there are no words (at least in the English language) that could possibly encompass all that is: chronic fatigue.

I lived with this indescribable condition for years as a result of my autoimmune thyroid disease.  SO tired, that I remember thinking multiple times, while driving “It’s only 25mph and I’m going straight, maybe I could set the cruise control and just close my eyes.”

WHAT?!

The majority of people likely thought I was intoxicated in some manner – I slurred my words, could barely form sentences, my eyelids were always half way shut, and I obviously had a rough time with driving.

But wanna know what this crazy fatigue taught me? (Besides that driving while fatigued is JUST as dangerous as driving while intoxicated.  Please don’t do it.)

I learned how absolutely exhausting, both mentally and physically, it is to be angry, offended, and worried.  Perhaps this is one of the (many) reasons why God tells us to trust Him and forgive quickly.

This wasn’t a self-improvement type of thing I was trying out, either (I didn’t have the energy for that).  It was a result of my body in survival mode, conserving the tiny, tiny bit of energy I had.

My brain took one look at those offensive comments and made the decision I was likely better off using my energy for the important things, like making it upstairs so that I could crawl into bed and sleep.

Thanks, brain.

Now, with the majority of my energy back, I remind myself of this lesson daily.

Anger is exhausting.  Let it go. 

2.) You learn to say NO.

On the note of becoming less offendable, I also learned to let go of trying to please everyone.  In particular, I had less anxiety about letting people down.

I don’t mean this in the sense of deliberately committing and then cancelling plans, or making promises I likely couldn’t keep.

Instead, I stopped saying “We should get lunch together some time!” because I probably wasn’t going to have the energy once the day came around.

If I was invited to a social event, I’d respond as a “Maybe,” or flat out “No,” especially if it was with toxic people.

And guess what?  This little skill of mine has proven to be significant for multiple areas of my life.

At first, it was in the workplace.  I learned to stop saying YES to every project my boss gave me just because I wanted to climb the ranks (and exhaust myself in the process).

Then it carried into motherhood.  The power of “no” keeps our family schedule light and manageable – a must for life with crazy toddlers and parents with chronic illness.

 3.) You find out who your friends are.

Or at least you gain a picture of which relationships are solid, and which ones are… not.

For us, the majority of rocky relationships revealed themselves when Frank and I started to restrict our diets and stopped drinking alcohol (we were in our early 20s at the time).  There was a clear divide between the positive and negative.

The distinction?

The people who cared… didn’t care that we had to restrict our diets.  Meaning, it didn’t matter to them if we couldn’t drink or eat gluten, because they simply wanted to be with us.

There was no questioning.  No teasing.  Just flat out acceptance.  And many, the majority actually, learned how to cook for us.  These are the relationships that are still going strong.

We didn’t necessarily nix the other relationships, but some of them continued to reveal underlying issues we needed to address.  The diet restriction issue was just the tip of the relationship-iceberg.

4.) You learn how to become your own advocate.

Autoimmune life is confusing.  For example:

My primary care physician diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s Disease.  She then sent me to a rheumatologist, who said a whole lot of nothing.  Then to an endocrinologist who told me I didn’t have Hashimoto’s Disease.

Then, I saw a new doctor in between all of that who said I DID have Hashimoto’s Disease.

The endocrinologist told me that I’d die (not exaggerating) if I took Armour® Thyroid.  My other, new doctor told me that I’d pretty much die if I DIDN’T take Armour Thyroid.

ENOUGH ALREADY!

I put my foot down and took control.

If I hadn’t, I’d still be really sick today.  I know it.

 5.) You learn how to communicate and be open.

What I failed to realize from the beginning, after receiving my diagnosis, was that my doctors were in the driver’s seat of MY health.  They asked the questions and made the decisions.

So, within the process of taking control, I learned how to clearly communicate, ask my own questions, and work as a team with doctors (who I may not always agree with).

Then, once my symptoms flared to an unexpected extreme, I was forced to explain my struggles to those that depended on me, both at work and at home.  And while I was afraid that this would ruin my accountability, it actually protected it, because I didn’t have to make up excuses anymore.

Open communication solves problems. 

It simplifies relationships and makes them stronger.  Unfortunately, it can be uncomfortable at first since most of us are never pushed to communicate so effectively.

6.) You learn to listen to your body and symptoms.

High school sports might have been the death of me – well, the death of my former pre-autoimmune self.

Just like conditioning for pretty much every sport out there – I was told various versions of:

“No Pain, NO GAIN!”

“Pain is temporary.  Quitting lasts forever.”

“The faster your arms move, the faster your legs move.” (I’m not so sure this one is really that accurate…)

I pushed myself, and then got injured, repeatedly.  But, high school is only 4 years long and life is too short to miss games due to sprained ankles.  So, I taped them up and kept going.

By senior year I was wearing two ankle braces (over already taped ankles), a knee brace from a torn MCL, and a shoulder brace for a mysterious shoulder pain (which disappeared after treating my Hashimoto’s).

I literally looked like the bionic woman.

Why did I do this?  Because I was taught to ignore my body, push through, keep going, and eventually things will pay off!

Well, things got worse, and I started to notice that these signals (such as never healing from any injuries, ever), were signs my poor body was trying to give me.

SLOW DOWN, STOP, PAY ATTENTION!

I now see symptoms as gifts and I no longer ignore them.

I’ve learned that our bodies are smart.  They give us clues when something is wrong.  It’s up to me to take them, and start solving the puzzle by listening and responding.

 7.) You learn to never take vibrant health and energy for granted.

I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease when I was 21 years old.  Just old enough to drink.

The only problem was that one glass of alcohol was all it took to feel intoxicated.  On top of it, my hangovers (from just one glass) were outrageous.  Achey legs, vertigo, intensified brain fog, migraine headaches… a complete disaster.

I suppose at that time in my life, it didn’t really matter if I woke up sick and tired because… well, I ALWAYS felt sick and tired.  But then, Armour® Dessicated Thyroid entered the scene and gave me the sweet taste of energy.  I wanted it to last forever.

So, I gave up alcohol and many of the late-night social scenes that came with it.

Why would I make the decision to throw any of my precious energy away (via one-drink hangover) when I was on my knees begging for it every day?

Now that I have it back, I (repeatedly) thank God for it, and do everything I can to hold onto it.

I will never take advantage of vibrant health and energy again.

8.) You develop empathy for others.

I mentioned earlier that there are no words to describe chronic fatigue.  There are also no words to describe brain fog or chronic pain – even the words themselves fall flat.  It’s suffering that can only be felt.

So, now, when I talk with people who live with chronic illness, I don’t need them to describe their symptoms, because I FEEL it in my heart… sometimes enough to keep me awake at night (no joke).

What’s so great about developing this empathy is that I never had it before.  My heart was cold.  I had no compassion, and thought that the majority of health issues were simply a result of personal choice (some are, but not all).

But, I stand corrected and thankful for the warming of my heart.

 9.) You learn to simplify & declutter.

I owe this one to brain fog.  My most stubborn symptom.

It’s a matter of survival.  No need for extravagant meals, or a jam-packed schedule of social commitments.  It’s impossible to keep it all organized when you don’t have the mental capacity to put together a basic to-do list.  Even one as simple as take shower and eat breakfast.

So… adapt and simplify!  I learned quickly that meals, for example, can be healing AND delicious AND simple, all at the same time.

Once I realized that just about everything in life can be simplified in some way, I started to make some major changes.

Less clothes = less laundry to clean = less laundry to fold and put away = less time spent doing the one chore I despise the most

Less social media profiles = less time spent on my phone looking at other people’s lives = more time living MY life = less STRESS and more happiness!

This realization landed me and my family in this clutter-free, minimalist type of lifestyle.  Something I now see as a major and often underrated tool for healing and managing any chronic illness.

 10.) You learn what’s really important.

This one is more of a result of lesson/benefit #1 (less offendable) and #9 (simplify and declutter).

Letting go of anger and ridding my life of unnecessary, time-consuming, and mentally draining clutter started to shine a light on the things that really matter.

Prior to my autoimmune life, I was focused 100% on the WRONG things.

Once I lost my energy, the significance of all this stuff vanished quickly.  For one, I no longer had the energy to shop, or maintain anything.  But on top of that, I couldn’t even afford it anymore.

After switching to a cleaner diet, cleaner products, and building a healthcare team of doctors/practitioners that were not covered under health insurance, I faced the decision to choose: a monthly chiropractic adjustment or cable/ monthly subscription to Netflix?  It was one or the other to stay on budget.

Chiropractic won.  The investment into my health was (and still is) a much greater priority than a daily dose of mediocre television.

11.) You raise your kids differently.

This is something that I go into more detail about in our blog post: Why We Choose to Prevent Autoimmune Disease in our Children.

Our personal autoimmune healing has revealed many of the reasons and contributors behind our sickness: toxic products, toxic food, toxic relationships, and so on.

People have tried to argue with me that we have “no proof” any of it actually contributed to the development of our autoimmune disease.

They’re right… we don’t have the proof.

But, we also don’t need it.  Once we removed all of the “crap,” we started healing (with blood tests to prove it).

So, knowing what we know now, we are committed to raising truly healthy children, free of chronic illness.  As their only advocates, this responsibility is HUGE.

“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” – William Wilberforce

Chronic Illness CAN be frustrating. 

But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it.  There are incredibly valuable life lessons hidden beneath our daily symptoms and struggles.

What have YOU learned?

Please share in the comments below.

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Living Well with Autoimmune Disease: 11 Benefits of Living with Chronic Illness & Autoimmune Disease

Comments 26

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  1. Thanks for the reminder! Living with fibromyalgia, I could definitly see myself in this article and it’s good to have a reminder of some positive aspects of the illness.

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      Hi Stéphanie, just last year, I started to experience fibromyalgia-like pain for the first time. My heart goes out to you… it’s really tough to get through some days. Thanks for reading and reaching out.

  2. Thank you for looking at the bright side! I am in the process of downsizing and just parted with years of stuff that adds to more stress! It’s nice to have others that understand that the brain fog is real! Best wishes on your journey!

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      Lisa, I am so happy you took that step to start downsizing because honestly, it makes a WORLD of difference! I really think that decluttering, simplifying, downsizing, etc. is incredibly effective for living with any chronic illness, but a lot of people are not aware yet of just how much it can help. I wish you the best as well. Thanks for reading!

  3. This article was so timely for me! I suffer from Hashimotos as well but at this moment I am 5 days post op from having one of my parathyroids removed. About 4 years ago I had finally felt like I was managing my thyroid symptoms but then I started experiencing much more debilitating problems like muscle weakness, bone pain and crushing fatigue. It started me on a journey to find out what was wrong. I saw doctor after doctor getting test after test. Finally a year ago I was at yet another doctor appointment 6 months post op from a muscle biopsy that showed nothing again and I happened to mention that I noticed my calcium was high. That was the first time I heard the words Primary Hyperparathyroidism. I got more blood tests that proved I had it but none of the doctors would take me seriously and give me the only cure – surgery to remove a tumor. I suffered another year of pain, fatigue, kidney stones, anxiety and depression because I was literally told to “wait to see if all hell breaks lose” 6 weeks ago I decided I had had enough and I searched for a surgeon on my own who would help me. 6 weeks later I already have had the surgery I needed and am on the road to recovery. Thank you for pointing out all the good that has come from my journey (which is not over yet!) it’s like you were writing my story for me. Thank you!

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      Karen, wow! What a journey you’ve been on. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment because we all empower each other when we share our personal stories. Your story is so unique. I, myself, don’t know much about parathyroid issues and related symptoms so I definitely learned something new. I am sure it will also educate our readers. Your journey shows that becoming your own advocate is so vital for achieving the health we all need and desire. I wish you the best of health and healing as you recover from your surgery. Good for you for taking charge!

  4. Thank you for sharing. I recently lost my father and as we had our last conversations we joked about giving up stress for lent. I’ve kept to my word and when I feel stress coming on I stop and ask if it’s necessary. A simple anticedent helped me refocus. And it’s crossed over into my hypothyroid life. Thanks.

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      Domenca, so interesting you bring that up… I, too, did something very similar last year for Lent and decided to give up negative thoughts. I wasn’t perfect by any means, but it brought so much awareness to just how many times these thoughts, stress, anger, etc. creep into my life (sometimes without even realizing it). The exercise of facing them in the moment and learning to let go is so powerful, both for mental and physical health, and growing in faith! Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

  5. Thank you so much for posting these thoughtful, light-filled words. The world needs more of these articles-shifting to a place of gratitude has huge effects on mind, body, and spirit. Thank you!! ?

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      Emily, thank you for your kind comment! I just heard an interview with a practitioner and she said that she always tells her patients – “Chronic illness doesn’t happen to you… it happens FOR you.” There is so so much we can learn from our journey of healing. Thanks for reading!! 🙂

      1. I came across this and am grateful for a positive post and comments. I’ve been dealing with chronic pain/illnesses for over 20 years. Up until recently I always felt like my body betrayed me by getting sick. Like I was being punished. A month or so ago I finally realized a flaw in this thinking. My life and this body is not an accident or punishment. And that maybe being compassionate to myself might be the better way for me. Again, grateful for this post, Anna!

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          Hi Sharon, yes, I totally agree… this is not a punishment, and sometimes it is so hard to see past all of the suffering. I love that you were able to change your mindset to a more positive outlook. That alone will do wonders for your healing. Thanks for reading. 🙂

  6. Thank you so much for posting this article. I have been struggling for 4 years now with a number of issues (adrenal fatigue, hormone issues, blood sugar issues, slight hypothyroid, vestibular issues, headaches/light headed, anxiety, ect.). Losing two parents, work issues, friends moving away and just dealing with my stress has taken a huge tole on my life and my body has not been the same since I had an initial panic attack on Aug. 14, 2016. I have had a really hard time seeing the positive in all of this even though I ask God to show me all the time the purpose in all of this and have at times felt like I can really help people, but am just still so frustrated in how I feel. After a number of doctors, functional health and conventional, naturopathic docs, nutritionist and chiropractors I’m still not better (oh and yes changing my diet). I was but then back slid due to grief. I really needed to hear all of these positive points you’ve made! I need to think more positive and let go of some of the negative, but how do you do it when you feel the symptoms every day? I always pray for just one day of feeling “normal” again. It’s been almost 4 years of not one “normal” day. The one thing missing that I really need to focus on that I have a really hard time doing is getting some exercise. My husband thinks if I just would get moving a lot of this would go away. Not sure if he’s right but sometimes I agree. 🙂

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      Hi Gina, I completely understand how frustrating it is to not feel normal… especially for so many years and after seeing so many doctors. It is especially frustrating when the things that seem to help other people (functional medicine, diet, etc.) aren’t helping. There are a few things that have really helped me when I’m stuck. First, I sometimes feel like I’m running around, trying one thing for 30 days, then when that doesn’t work, I try another thing, and then another… without any real plan. So sitting down and actually thinking through the steps and making a long-term plan has been vital for my healing. I also realized that I needed a strong anti-inflammatory foundation, regardless if I thinkg it is working or not. So that means, regardless of my progress, I always stick to an anti-inflammatory diet (for me, that is gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, and egg-free), a solid sleep routine, some movement (stretching is sometimes the only thing I can do), etc. while I work on trying other interventions or researching more about my symptoms and disease. If I have that solid foundation, then anything I try on top of it will usually give me much better results because I am giving my body the tools it needs. Then finally, perhaps the most important… I pray for God’s direction. Sometimes I forget that God is the ultimate healer… not diet, or supplements, or anything else. And while all these tools are provided by Him to help us, I lose sight that He is the one behind any and all healing. So sometimes, when I’m stuck, I simply say “Okay God, I am trying hard here. I am eating the nourishing, real food you intended me to eat. I am staying hydrated with clean water. I am taking care of my body in the best way I know how, but I am still sick. So what’s my next step?” God wants us more than anything to depend upon Him and trust completely. I encourage you to keep searching for answers, but more importantly… keep praying for direction because He will guide you, Gina. I promise!! 🙂

  7. Thank you so much for writing and sharing this. I have interstitial cystitis and it too affects every part of my life. It is refreshing to see someone look at the bright side of one’s illness not the many things it has taken away! I have lived with my first knowingly for ther last 7 years and can tell you that I identify with each and every pinpoint you listed and will be sharing this with some of my IC sisters!

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      Heather, I am so sorry to hear about your battle with interstitial cystitis… I personally know a few people battling IC and I have seen first hand that it is not an easy condition to live with. But – I really believe that those of us living with inflammatory disease have a unique take on the world due to our illnesses, and plenty of wisdom to share with others as a result. Thank you for taking the time to read, comment, and spread the bright side of living with a chronic condition.

  8. You’re totally right! I’m 23 with spondylitis and fibromyalgia and hypothyroidism.
    I’m so strong mentally…but the last months I just ignore myself because I’m tired of all these health problems. Thank you for this article you make me think again how to become myself!

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      Hi Georgia, you’re welcome. ? We have so much wisdom to gain from living with chronic illness and autoimmune disease. Thanks for reading. We are praying for you!

  9. A good friend of mine sent me this article. Thanks so much for your positive message. I have suffered with what I thought was fibromyalgia for well over ten years now; but now they are thinking it’s autoimmune disease. The pain has been unbearable. I don’t know what the plan of treatment will be and I’m not even sure where to start. I do know this will NOT define who I am and I will come out on top! Thanks again!!!

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      Hi Martina, I am sorry to hear about your journey – I know of many people that have followed that same path with a fibromyalgia diagnosis and then later an autoimmune disease diagnosis. I, too, suffered tremendously last year with chronic daily pain that I can only describe as fibromyalgia and it took about 9 months but I am now pain free! I love your outlook and know you WILL come out on top! Please be sure to check in and let us know how you’re doing. Thanks for reading, Martina. 🙂

  10. Hi anna! Thank you for this blog! I’m just starting out in this journey…the pain is frustrating but the Dr doesn’t know what it is! But you are right about it being a blessing! God is good!

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