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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
LIKE THIS POST? SHARE IT AND SAVE IT TO YOUR FAVORITE PINTEREST BOARD!
Hi! I’m Anna, co-founder of Healthy Habits Reset. After managing my own autoimmune diseases using lifestyle, habit, and mindset changes, I now work to teach others how to navigate the treacherous and confusing journey of chronic illness living. I firmly believe YOU hold the power to question, think critically, and become your own rock-solid advocate in a world full of unhealthy habits. Consider me, and my husband, Frank, your autoimmune disease health coaches. Are you ready?!