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Hard Fought Lessons of Chronic Illness

Updated: Feb 2, 2020

Illness is the greatest of teachers. I say this with conviction, having spent the better part of the last decade battling chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme disease. Being sick is not much fun, but as with any challenge, there are invaluable lessons to be learned in the pain and suffering. These lessons are the silver lining to your storm clouds, and they are truly a gift.

These are the most important lessons battling chronic illness has taught me.

1. ALWAYS Be Your Own Advocate

First and foremost in life, you must be your own advocate. In the movie, Talladega Nights, Ricky Bobby’s father very astutely tells him, “if you ain’t first, you’re last.” Very funny, but also very TRUE!

Many people tend to think that putting themselves first is selfish. They’ve been indoctrinated to believe that being a good parent and spouse means to always put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own. That is terrible thinking. Taking care of yourself should be your primary goal in life. After all, what good are you to your kids, your spouse, your family, your friends, your employer, etc., if you are run-down and sick? You must take care of YOU first. By taking care of YOU, you are taking care of those you love. You are an absolutely critical component to all of the people in your universe, and taking care of yourself is by no means selfish. If being your best for those you love is important, then maintaining your health and wellness should be priority #1.

Being your own advocate also means finding your voice. There may be doctors who dismiss your symptoms out of hand, but don’t let that stop you from looking for answers. No one knows your body and your situation better than you. Let your voice be heard and have the confidence to trust your instincts.

2. Everyone is Flawed; People Will Let You Down, and That’s OK!

Since publishing my story, I’ve heard from a lot of people who suffer from chronic illness. And one of the top complaints I hear is that no one believes they are sick. People get stuck on this injustice and feel betrayed and hurt. At a time when a person needs to be cared for and loved, they instead find themselves on the receiving end of poor treatment. The sting is especially harsh when it comes from a close loved one.

The sad truth is that people will let you down. We are all flawed individuals, figuring out life as we go. Some of us know what it feels like to suffer a chronic and invisible illness such as Lyme, CFS, or any autoimmune disease, but others do not. They have no reference point. They believe doctors have all the answers, and if a doctor says you’re not sick, then, well, you’re not sick. No amount of haggling and arguing will make someone believe you over a doctor if that person believes doctors are always right. So, let it go. Go ahead and feel mad and annoyed, but then move on. You don’t have to prove to anyone except yourself that you’re sick. Don’t waste time and energy being angry at people who let you down. Their opinions are not your concern. You will be okay in spite of it. Align with a practitioner who understands your problems, and keep your focus on things that matter—like getting well!

3. Diet is All-Powerful

Diet is more powerful than any treatment, procedure, or miracle pill. No surgery, no doctor, no supplement or vitamin has as much power as your diet. What you eat each and every day is going to dictate your health or lack thereof.

I hear from people on a daily basis who struggle with their health, and they will always ask what supplements, protocols, or doctors got me well. Most people fail to truly believe me when I say food essentially cured me. They often dismiss it out of hand and say something like, ‘well yes, I know food helped, but what else?’ There really isn’t much else. By radically changing how and what you eat, I’m convinced that almost any physical ailment can be improved or reversed. Yes, there are supplements that can help, but they are meant to be supplemental to a proper diet. Yes, there are doctors and herbal protocols that can be very beneficial, but they can only do so much if you are not eating properly. Your cells need to be nourished on a daily basis with a nutrient-dense and properly tailored diet in order to heal. Fixing my diet was far and away the most powerful step I took to regain my health.

I can hear you saying, “well, I already eat pretty well.” No matter how well you think you eat, if you are still sick, there is plenty of room for improvement. I guaranty whatever your level of “eating well,” there are areas that need work. Very few of the people I meet with eat properly. Get honest with yourself and get immersed in learning about nutrition. It’s the way out of many, if not most, health-related problems. My biggest regret in life is that I did not subscribe to this way of living and thinking sooner.

4. Struggles Don’t Block Your Path, Struggles ARE THE PATH

Life is a never-ending series of problems. When you get over your current set of problems, another set will present itself. It’s an unfortunate reality for everyone.

The secret to being happy in life is not to avoid problems. The secret to happiness is rather to embrace problems, learn and grow from them, and view them as part of your journey. If we didn’t struggle, we would have no reference points. How would we know happiness if we did not feel sadness? How would we appreciate life itself if we never felt loss or struggled? Your struggles are placed before you for good reason. There are lessons you need to learn and life skills you need to retain and hone. Your struggles are not blocking your path, they are clearing your path and turning you into the person you were meant to become in this lifetime.

You may be in the thick of a terrible struggle right now. Instead of looking at your difficulty as a curse, view it as an opportunity to learn and grow—another perspective I wish I’d adopted decades ago!

5. The Surest Way to Fail is to Quit

No matter how discouraged or deflated you may feel, if you’re still breathing, you have the opportunity to turn around any problem. You’ve probably heard this before, but it bears repeating that quitting is the surest path to failure. Always keep working and moving forward. That next step you take might be the one that tips the scales in your favor.

6. You Are Stronger Than You Think

You are absolutely a thousand times stronger than you think. Whatever the universe has placed in your path, you can handle it.

Recovering from a chronic illness has required a lot of patience, persistence, and discipline. I’m not sure I possessed any of those qualities prior to falling sick. But once I learned what was required to get well, I fell in line and got to work. I’m shocked and amazed, to be quite honest, that I was able to give up most of the foods I love almost overnight. It’s actually not that hard when you have a good enough reason. People often tell me that they could never eat liver or sardines or vegetables for breakfast. Yes they could. You can do anything you set your mind to; don’t tell yourself otherwise. I was recently reading an article about a woman named Ernestine Shepherd, the world’s oldest female body builder. She’s 83 years old and in incredible physical shape, having only recently given up competitive body building. Moral of the story? We are all capable of much more than we think. Whatever challenge you’re facing, believe in yourself and your abilities. You have what it takes to overcome.

7. It Will Get Better

If there is one thing you can count on, it’s change. Nothing is static, and nothing ever remains the same. Just as you can count on a good time to end, your bad time will end at some point as well. Everything in life ebbs and flows.

Chronic illness can feel like a life sentence, as improvements can be very slow. I felt stuck for years and truly did not know if my health would improve, remain the same, or get worse. But I believed in my heart that if I did all that I could on my end, that things were likely to get better. And, very slowly, they did. Sometimes improvements take longer than you’d like, but that does not mean they are not coming. Hold tight to your faith and do all that you can do on your end, and your situation will eventually get better.

Like what you read? Check out Holly’s new book, "The Healer Within – My Recovery From Chronic Lyme, CFS, and Autoimmune Disease" NOW ON AMAZON!

And LIKE her on Facebook at “The Healer Within You”


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