Silver Linings & Sour Dairy - Benefits of Chronic Illness

This whole corona pandemic has gotten me thinking about the drawbacks of RA, sure. But really, it has me thinking about the benefits – that elusive silver lining that sometimes feels more invisible than a DVD salesman at a streaming convention. The thing is, just like when they replaced Mrs. Garrett on that DVD box set of “The Facts of Life” you swore you were going to re-watch, the upside of living with autoimmune illness can take a while to show itself and may not be exactly what you expected, but it still has value.

I’m sure you are saying, “Upside to RA? You must have taken too many hits off the crazy pipe today, Dan!” The thing is, when you have had 30+ years to consider your situation and find ways to cope, eventually you start to drill down on just what you’re actually good at. And contrary to intuition, living with a chronic illness has some benefits – benefits that you should be proud of, and I think now is the perfect time to remind people of that.

Chronic illness has made us tough

First, I think the number one thing to remember is how tough you’ve become. I know with all the depressed days and crying jags that are common when living in pain day and day out, especially the ones that you have at 2 am when sitting on the toilet in the middle of the night just completely drained after your illness took yet another thing from you, it seems like tough is the last thing you are. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, though.

Doing what we have to do, day in and day out

Toughness isn’t not falling prey to those late-night-toilet crying fits. Toughness is having those fits, by yourself with no one else there to help you, and then pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, cleaning up, going back to bed, and getting up the next day and going about your business – like a boss. That’s what toughness is, that’s what being brave is – knowing that you are never not going to face the same pain, stiffness, emotional tests, and unknown fate that greets you every day and doing what you have to do, day in and day out.

How many people in this world can say they wake up in a proverbial war zone every single day and yet still find time to celebrate their best friend’s birthday with a smile, be there for their kid’s excruciatingly boring soccer games and also bring the orange slices, or act out “Suddenly Seymour” when no one is watching and really hit those notes with gusto? Not that last one? OK, well, maybe that’s just me, but you get the point! You are tough-as-nails and your illness made you that way – wear it with pride.

Chronic illness and taking charge of chaos

Next, and this is one I really enjoy having access to emotionally – it takes a whole heck of a lot for us to freak out and lose our cool. Seriously, I am always the one who ends up keeping everyone else calm whenever things start to go all pear-shaped. Or apple-shaped. Or banana-shaped? Errr, maybe not banana-shaped (let’s keep it PG).

Point is, there isn’t much that can get me running around like a chicken without a head – I’ve almost died twice, I’ve had heart attacks, stents, lymphoma, bad fish, pneumonia, ulcers, high blood pressure, the plague, been broke, and been divorced. What’s left? Someone lighting my house on fire while kicking me in the jimmies and telling me my singing voice would make a child cry? Even then I’d probably be like, “Meh, you call that a fire?”

We manage chaos and the unknown everyday

When you have a chronic illness, being able to take charge of things in the chaos is a skill you learn real fast – especially since chaos is kind of where most of us live much of the time. Actually, living with chronic illness is basically redirecting chaos to where it can do the least amount of damage that day. So it should come as no surprise that when the you-know-what hits the you-know-what, we aren’t phased. We deal with the unknown every single day of our lives so being prepared for anything comes with the territory and is yet another silver lining we should always be proud of.

Empathy and a compassionate response

Finally, one last thing that has come along with my chronic illness is a heightened sense of empathy and a compassionate response that I don’t remember having when I was younger. I just hate to suffer myself so I don’t like to see others suffer either. In fact, my suffer-o-meter (hurtmometer?) is so finely tuned that I can’t really watch any TV where people die, are dying, might die later on, or talk about someone else who died. Yeah, it’s really getting annoying, frankly. My eyes just start leaking while watching shows and it’s like, “Come on!! All they said was that they’re out of tacos!! Jeeeeez.”

All kidding aside, while it can be annoying, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. My sense of empathy makes it so I can help friends, family, and all the readers who contact me on the net and have them really feel like they are heard. It’s one of the greatest things my RA has given me, and I would trade keeping it for all the rest. Err, except my heightened sense of smell, of course. You never know when you’ll need to tell when milk is about to go bad.

Coping skills learned from chronic illness

These aren’t all the good things that come with RA and chronic illness, but it’s a good start, and I think that all of you can identify with at least one of them. It’s more important now than ever before to realize that your illness isn’t all bad, even though when you turn on the news it seems like that’s’ all there is – bad news for people like us. It isn’t true though: we still have strengths and they are valuable. (Call me if your dairy gets iffy.) Talk soon.

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