When you have a chronic illness, you’ll inevitably hit a point where your mental health starts to suffer. No one likes to be limited by factors outside of their control, and living with ongoing health problems is the pinnacle of just that: a steady, uncompromising burden to which you relinquish autonomy. Of course, with certain conditions there are things you can do to minimize the disruption it causes to your day-to-day life; but when all is said and done, it’s still a weight that colours your existence in a significant way. And it’s nearly impossible to have that fact not take a toll on your mental wellbeing.
One aspect I continue to struggle with is making any sense of why I got sick in the first place, and for so long. I don’t get why, a month after starting my third year of university, I came down with a flu-like illness which left my memory significantly impaired (not to mention the other neuropsychiatric manifestations that developed later). It’s been 3.5 years since that occurrence and to say that it’s derailed my life plans, hopes for the future, and sense of self-worth would be an understatement.
I know, it’s dangerous thinking to let yourself be defined by your illness. But I’m stating, just for the record, that it plain sucks to have experienced my intellect and cognitive abilities, with which I used to identify so strongly, be stripped away so unexpectedly.
Okay, complaints aside. The tl;dr up until this point is that the seemingly arbitrary nature of being struck down with illness and suffering its consequences is that it’s easy to lose your footing and get lost in the senselessness of it all.
One remedy to this toxic train of thinking is to restore a sense of meaning in your life. I’ve found that sharing my story with others is a powerful way to do that, whether it be online or in-person. Connecting with others and helping them has always brought me personal fulfillment, and doing so via discussing (the sometimes ugly nature of) personal health is a natural extension of that. No matter who you might have in your life for support (friends, family, significant others), sometimes you just need to hear the words of someone who’s been standing in the same whacky place as you to feel truly comforted. And the experience of being that person for someone else gives back to you in a way that might not be obvious until you’ve had it.
In my experience, understanding that your words have the power to make someone feel less alone, more hopeful, and more motivated to strive for a better life removes the feeling of having a pointless existence and replaces it with a sense of meaning.
Just recently, my local family doctor (who writes my prescriptions in Canada following the recommendations of my American doctor; she’s very sympathetic of my situation, but rather clueless herself as to how to treat me) put me in touch with a patient of hers who has been struggling to find explanations for her symptoms through the Canadian healthcare system. Sharing my story with her was cathartic and like talking to a younger version of myself; suggesting ways for her to move forward with her health gave me a renewed sense of value in the knowledge I have to offer.
When it comes to sharing things online (which I’ve only done more recently), I’ve drawn inspiration from the feeling I get when I read words written by others that hit close to home. I used to lurk in the background, scouring message boards and blogs to find others with similar experiences and to find out what they’ve tried. One of my favourite resources is the Phoenix Rising forum, a place for those with ME/chronic fatigue syndrome and other related illnesses. Contributing to the conversation over there every now and then, together with writing this blog, has been encouraging both for the positive personal interactions as well as the comments that let me know that my words have resonated with others.
Some final thoughts:
- Internalizing that your existence is meaningful to others is helpful when you’re struggling with your mental health, particularly when your mind is (falsely) telling you that everything about your existence is pointless. In that state, sometimes you need to look beyond yourself to find a reason to keep going, and that’s okay.
- No matter how alone you feel, with 7 billion plus people in the world it’s guaranteed that someone right now is feeling similar to you, and that someone in the future will feel similar to you. Work on getting your story out there (share it in person if you have the opportunity, or post something online). Your personal experience will resonate with someone, meaning more to them than what it might mean to you in the present moment.
Thank you to everyone I’ve interacted with in this journey so far. You’ve helped bring meaning to my life, and because of that I am inspired to keep blogging and documenting my experiences!