Self-Love: Lessons from Chronic Illness
As a teacher, I am all about learning new things - after all, it is part of my job! While I have been in many, many classrooms with wonderful teachers and professors (even some graduate neuroscience classes), some of the most important lessons in my life though did not come from a classroom. Some of the most important lessons I have learned came from being diagnosed with several chronic illnesses.
Prior to being diagnosed, I was an athlete, and this was a primary way I defined myself and created my identity. I was a softball player and a competitive runner. My life revolved around these sports! Running and being competitive made me feel powerful, successful, and focused. These aspects of my life came to a crashing halt when I started experiencing debilitating migraines, seizures, and other unexplained symptoms. I found myself too sick to run or compete in sports anymore. At first (and admittedly, still at times), I was devastated and felt I was without a purpose.
I did not know how to take care of myself without competitive sports in my life. I had to take a lot of time to learn about myself and my body after being diagnosed. These were not things that I was good at or took any time to do previously. I have struggled with body image for as long as I can remember, and sports helped me feel healthy and strong. Without sports, I had to find my strength in other ways. I had to learn how to feed my body with illness-fighting fuel and to listen to my body when it needed to rest. This was HARD! Through the process of learning how to feed and fuel my body to help my body fight these illnesses, I learned that I am capable to caring for myself, and even capable of accepting new limits. My body could no longer run a 10K every weekend or play endless hours of softball during hot, summer months, but my body could wake up every day and live with hope despite chronic illness. I learned that I only have one body, and even if it is a little broken, it is my responsibility to care for it, after all broken things allow more light to shine through the cracks!
I have learned that it is okay to rest all day with tea, Netflix, and a blanket if that is what my body needs. I have learned that it is okay to be angry with God for allowing me to be sick. I have learned it is okay to tell people when I do not feel well. I have learned that it is okay to be okay with my body, even when it is not racing 10 miles, running every day, and playing competitive sports. Most importantly, I have learned that I have a new normal. Running and sports have been replaced with pilates and yoga. And you know what?! I LOVE yoga! Pilates and yoga make me feel just as strong as running did, and they are safer for my body. I am learning that self-care and movement should be a practice for my mind just as much as one for my physical body.
Graduate neuroscience courses were not easy, and just like those courses, these lessons I learned from chronic illness have not been easy either. They have most definitely been worth it. I have learned and developed a true practice of self-respect.
My illnesses are not going away, so I am learning to love myself through the rough days, embrace the moments I feel good, and to set goals for myself that are not performance based like I did before I was diagnosed. I no longer strive for the PR in a race, but I strive to write a book, practice yoga with mindfulness, and to follow my passions every day.
Shannon was diagnosed with epilepsy and POTS after a car accident in 2014. She is currently employed as a high school teacher and loves owner-training her service dog and trying out new coffee shops. Blogging is new for her, but she is enjoying the opportunity to share about her experiences and hopes to continue a lot more blogging and writing in the future!