2 years ago during my freshman year of college, I developed mono aka “the kissing disease.” No shocker there: I was running on empty for 4 years straight, making sure I always gave 110% to everything. To make matters worse, I was barely eating, and when I did, it was usually sugar. Or chips. The combination of sleepless nights, crazy amounts of stress, and lack of nutrition led to this diagnosis, and eventually led to the biggest change in my life thus far.
At the time, I thought I would get over it within 2-4 weeks like most of my friends. I wasn’t so lucky (or maybe I was more lucky, now looking back). I was too dizzy to stand, too weak to walk, and when I closed my eyes it felt like I was on a ship during a storm. I could no longer exercise, attend class, go out with friends, or barely lift my head up off the pillow.
When 1 month, then 2 months, and 3 months passed and nothing was getting better, I made a big decision to leave my freshman year of college and go home to recover. Going from being an extremely energetic, athletic, and sociable girl to bed-ridden, depressed, and anxious was no easy transition. In fact, it’s been the hardest thing i’ve ever gone through. When 4, 5, and 6 months passed and I was still dizzy, weak, and too tired to function.. I decided I had to help myself. By this time others had given up (except for some special people in my life who i’m forever grateful to) including my doctor, friends, and some family. In my heart I knew something else (something big) was going on, and this was going to be my wake up call. I turned this illness (which turned out to be mono which morphed into CFS/Adrenal Fatigue) into my biggest inspiration and reason to create a beautiful life.
I learned a lot of things during this time, and here’s some of the little nuggets I can share if you’re going through a chronic illness or other condition:
1. Surround Yourself With Love –
The worst thing to do when you find out you have a chronic illness is to isolate yourself. Surround yourself with people who can understand your needs and simply just be there for you. I know there were (and still are sometimes) days when getting out of bed takes an insane amount of energy, and I can’t function as well as I used to, but being around people always increases my energy level, eases pain, and softens my heart.
2. Allow Yourself To Grieve –
I had to mourn the loss of who I used to be and learn to live with who I am now. I no longer had the ability to study long hours, party all night, and run 4 miles a day. I had to mourn the loss of how I had identified myself for 18 years, and learn to accept the new person I had to become.
Denial/Isolation, Anger, Bargaining (“If only I had done _____ sooner”) or “I should have _____” ), Depression, & Acceptance. I did all of these, and it’s important to go through them as well. Living with a chronic ailment/illness can be the biggest blessing, but only if you allow yourself to grieve to the amount you need. If you get stuck in one of the stages….
3. Talk to Someone (A Professional!)
The hardest thing for me is feeling like no one understands. Because CFS is a “syndrome,” there aren’t really tests or treatments for it, and its cause is unknown. All we know about it now is that it happens usually to younger women with high stress lives (hey! me to a T!). This means that there are tons of people who don’t understand what it is, don’t know why I can’t do certain things, and don’t get why it’s hard to concentrate/go out/why I need so much sleep. There were even people who claimed it was all in my head.
With every chronic illness people will give you unhelpful or rude advice that seems to aggravate your already struggling mindset. This is why it’s so important to talk to someone who has been through what you’re going through: This way they understand, they can empathize, and can help you with a game plan to see the illness in a new, brighter way.
4. Discover New Things!
Having a chronic illness often leads people to discover things they never would have if they weren’t sick. For example, since I couldn’t run anymore, I found yoga was the only type of movement I could do. Who would have known that yoga would change my life, and that I would become so passionate about it?!
Due to the anxiety that came up from being dizzy & weak all the time, I started to meditate. I fell in love!
Because of the exhaustion, lack of energy, and inflammation in my body, I turned to holistic health. I tried out a totally plant-based diet, bought a juicer, a blender, and ate kale for the first time. I even attended the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a health coach!
I went from being pre-med and stressed, to blissed out doing what I love. All of this is because of my illness. Maybe you’ll discover you love sitting and reading outside, taking bubble baths to de-stress, eating organic, or dry brushing in the mornings.
5. Nurture Yourself.
It’s easy to be mad at your body when you have a chronic health problem. The days when you can barely get up are the depressing days where you sometimes just want to lock yourself up and never come out. I can’t tell you how many days I spent crying because I was having a “bad CFS day” and couldn’t do something with friends, or didn’t have the energy and concentration to study like I used to. Something i’ve been doing that has helped is to love those days, embrace them, and use those days as “self-care ‘me time'”. Those are the days I let myself do what I want: sleep in, light candles and read, drink decadent green smoothies, and catch up on all my favorite blogs.
Nurture yourself and love yourself on all days, but especially those days when your health condition is acting up. Take care to rest, nap if you need, take a steam shower with eucalyptus essential oil (my personal favorite!), and pay extra attention to the food & thoughts you are feeding yourself. You’re worth it.
I hope some of these tips help give you some peace and serenity while you’re living and flourishing with your chronic condition. Although it’s not easy all the time, living a beautifully inspired life while being sick is 100% possible. I’ve done it, and I know you can, too 🙂
Namaste & Warm Hugs,