The limitations of chronic illness are many and they are unique to each person. The realities of “I can’t” are much of what makes depression so common in those who are chronically ill. For me, those I can’ts feel like a weight tied to me, holding me back from things that everyone else takes for granted. While so many complain about their jobs, I see them going to work each week and find myself fighting discontentment. I can’t work right now. I can’t support myself. I can’t.
Saying “I can’t” may seem to go against all the chirpy, peppy, go-get-em, reach-for-the-stars stuff we’ve heard since childhood, but there’s a lot of good in realizing and coming to terms with what can’t be done. It’s healthier to understand our limitations than to push until we burn out, right? Exceeding our physical limits isn’t an option when your body is already in distress. It’s a difficult reality that we face on a daily basis.
But for me and many others with chronic illness, it doesn’t end there. We learn to re-evaluate and prioritize. The truth is that we can’t do what many others can, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything at all. There’s the ambition ingrained in us that doesn’t die even when it’s crippled by frustration and depression. Maybe it’s the little kid in us who is fueled by being told we can’t do something. Maybe it’s our human instinct to “do”. To create. To add something to this world. Whatever it is that inspires us, chronic illness is the obstacle that tells us it’s impossible, but it’s also the thing that forces us to think outside the box and make our own path.
It’s the thing that pushes so many of us to start our own businesses and find ways to work from home. Sometimes it’s about the satisfaction of being able to actually provide for ourselves in some way, even if it’s small. Sometimes it’s simply the need for an artistic outlet. And sometimes it’s a desire to make a difference, to add our voice, or to raise awareness. All of these things are what drove me to publish my book on the realities of chronic illness in February, 2015. Without my own illness reminding me what I can’t do, I never would have discovered this was something I could do.
The reality is that chronic illness stinks. It really does. There’s no sugar-coating it. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life and I know I’m not alone in that. We’re always fighting. Fighting to survive and to thrive. Fighting for cures and relief. We are so often battered and bruised, hurt and exhausted. But the hidden beauty is that this makes us some of the most creative, inventive, and unique people. It makes us some of the best advocates, because we can’t do what everyone else does so we see things differently. And whether we struggle quietly and privately or express our battles publicly, we are each uniquely gifted to pave our own paths around the I can’ts and create new ways to accomplish the ordinary and the extraordinary.
Author and Photographer
Rachel Allison is a photographer and the author of The Reality of Chronic Illness , living with CFS and Dysautonomia since November, 2010. She is a lover of details, creativity, truth, understated elegance, words and cheesy humor. She lives life with a passion for learning and a deep need for the God who created and cares for her. She blogs about life, faith and photography at rachelallisonartist.com.