Falling ill can put a halt to our plans. When healthy people become muggle sick this nuisance is only temporary, life soon returns to normal. But a chronic illness diagnosis has a long-term impact on our lives, and we have to make substantial adjustments to accommodate the new limitations. Often our lives are put on hold – just surviving each day is hard enough.
But at what point do we restart our lives? At what point do we say “this is my life now and I will embrace these challenges and move forward”? At what point do we stop searching for a cure and learn to embrace life, just as it is, with all its messiness? At what point do we stop waiting for the storm to pass and learn to dance in the rain?
There is a quote that I often see doing the rounds and it makes me think about my life, and specifically the impact chronic illness has had on my aspirations and happiness;
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass.. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”Vivian Greene
I’m sure this quote means different things to different people, but for me it simply means not putting my life on hold until I’m ‘better’. It means making the best of the life I have been given, with all its frustrations and limitations. It means finding purpose and fulfilment despite the pain and exhaustion. It’s about living in the moment, and finding acceptance and even happiness, right now, without judgement of the past, or expectations of the future.
But I haven’t always thought this way, even when I was relatively well. I have never felt good enough. I have never felt worthy of praise for my achievements. I have never given myself the opportunity to pause and enjoy life. I have never learned how to dance in the rain.
I have always concentrated my efforts on future plans. I have always placed my happiness on future goals; I will be happy once I lose weight, I will stop pushing myself so hard once I have gained that promotion, I will relax once I have saved enough money to be financially secure. I don’t blame myself for this attitude, we are taught to think like this by society from an early age.
But chronic illness forced me to stop. It was an unwelcome and painful slap in the face, but it has taught me so much.
My personal storms
I have weathered many storms throughout my life. Some have been quick showers, while others, full blown hurricanes. Each storm presented its own challenges but they all impacted my life.
I have battled with depression and anxiety. I have faced the tornado that is anorexia. I have drowned in thoughts of self-loathing, never feeling good enough or worthy of happiness. I have faced grief, been consumed with guilt and struggled with suicidal thoughts. These were my personal storms.
I was a fat teenager. I always believed that once I lost weight I would be happy. So I put my life on hold and pinned all my happiness on a day in the future, where I would become a socially acceptable weight. But guess what? I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone, but being slim did not solve all my problems. It did not magically fix my mental health issues. It did not erase my childhood trauma. It did not remove all my insecurities or my desperate need to be liked. It did not make me happy. If anything, it added a whole new level of pressure and anxiety to the mix.
And then chronic illness reared its ugly head. I was not prepared for the loss of confidence and feeling of worthlessness that came with my new chronic life. I felt useless and desperate. I certainly couldn’t see a way of accepting this new and painful life, let alone finding a way to be happy and fulfilled. I spent each day just surviving and making promises to myself; once I’m better I will embrace life, I will not take anything for granted, I will start being kind to myself, I will prioritise self-care and I will be proud of my achievements. But what if I never got better? What if this was what the rest of my life was destined to be like? How much longer would I put my life on hold waiting for an unknown future where I would allow myself to be happy?
I’m not sure at what point it happened, but I knew I needed to find a way to accept myself and my life with all its messiness. I knew that unless I found a way to be kinder to myself I would spend my whole life consumed by a war I could not win. I knew that if I could find a way to love myself and accept my life while at rock bottom, I could build from there. I didn’t want to keep putting my life on hold. I knew I was just sacrificing my present happiness for a future full of unknown promises.
Dancing in the rain – what I have learned
When you live with chronic ill-health, the storm can represent some pretty difficult times. The chronic nature of our illnesses means the storm never fully passes. Yes, we can experience less turbulent times when our health may stabilise, but waiting for the storm to pass is not really an option for us.
There are ways for us to embrace life, and to find happiness and fulfilment amongst the unpredictability. Here are my tips for finding ways to dance in the rain:
1. Put yourself first
To learn how to embrace life, we often have to be a bit selfish. Prioritise your well-being over others – put yourself first.
2. Acknowledge you are worthy of love and happiness
We are often our own worst critic and being chronically ill often acts to amplify this judgment. You are worthy of happiness, you are enough just as you are, right now. Give yourself a break – and a big hug.
3. Make time for fun stuff
Learning to dance in the rain, and finding ways to enjoy life means making time for fun stuff. Don’t feel guilty for expending precious energy on things that make you smile, even if they don’t feel ‘productive’. Laughter is often the best medicine.
4. Try to live in the now – practice mindfulness
It is very easy to get consumed by the grief of our old self, or the fear of our unknown future. But I have learned that the best way to embrace life is to focus on the present. I have wasted too many years either ruminating over past mistakes, or panicking about all the ‘what-ifs’ of life. I find Mindfulness meditation particularly effective as a way to ground myself in the now. I intend to write more about this in a future post.
5. Try to find a place of acceptance
It’s very hard to make the most of life if we are constantly fighting against ourselves and the limitations of chronic ill-health. Finding a place of acceptance doesn’t mean giving up, but rather recognising your limitations and being at peace with how things are right now. It’s about focusing on what you can do rather than what you can’t do. It’s about acknowledging your flaws and learning to accept the person you are right now.
6. Make self-compassion your first priority
To dance in the rain is to be kind to yourself. This comes naturally to some. However, my need for perfection and always berating myself for not being good enough, means I find self-love and self-compassion difficult. I have spent a lot of time over the past couple of years researching ways to be kinder to myself, and putting these into practice.
Self-compassion simply means being kind to yourself. It’s the best way to ease the mental suffering that comes with chronic illness. How can we embrace life and fulfil our potential if we are constantly criticising ourselves?
7. Don’t be afraid to plan for the future and strive to achieve new goals
I know planning ahead is hard when you live with chronic ill-health, but it doesn’t mean we have to let go of our aspirations altogether – we may just need to adjust them to more realistic goals.
8. Redefine what success means
Having a chronic illness has changed my perspective on life in many ways, and it has also allowed me to redefine what success actually means to me. I now celebrate all my achievements, however small. By just living and not giving up, I am succeeding in life. A lot of good things have happened in my life since I redefined what success means for me, and I let go of my need to strive for perfection.
Don’t wait until you are ‘successful’ (whatever that means), to celebrate your victories and enjoy your life. Embrace your life (and yourself) and all its messiness, right now. If you choose to wait for the storm to pass, what are you missing?
Life is not about waiting – it’s about living
I have no idea what life holds for me, none of us do. But I’m determined to make the most of my life even with its unpredictability, and through all its limitations.
It is not easy to know how to continue living during the worst downpour. But life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, nor is it about avoiding it. It is about learning how to enjoy life and discovering ways to dance in the rain.
What beat will define my dance? I don’t know. I used to be a control freak, but now I try to embrace this unpredictability. I look forward to seeing what life has in store for me. I look forward to embracing everything that life has to offer. What I do know is: If I had waited for the storm to pass before dancing, I would still be frozen in a time filled with self-loathing and self-pity.
Life is never going to be perfect – there will always be challenges. Whatever my future looks like, I plan to continue to dance in the rain. But whatever your personal situation, please don’t stop dancing. Life is not about waiting – it’s about living.
What does this quote mean to you?
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