I am chronically ill, and I’m still a badass.
Actually, scratch that.
I’m a badass because I’m chronically ill. And I want you to start thinking about your “flaws” and “weaknesses” that way, too. Because success is all about the way we frame things.
THE SHAMEFUL SECRET
Talking about your autoimmune diseases isn’t the fastest way to make new friends. See, when you open up about having an autoimmune disease, something funny happens. Okay, scratch that again. It’s not funny at all. It’s baffling and hurtful and downright infuriating.
For starters, you’ll generally face a lot of non-believers. They think you’re being dramatic, or worse, faking it all together. They might call you a hypochondriac or poke fun at you for having some “trendy” illness or ask if you’ve ever “actually been tested.”
The shitty thing about chronic illness (besides, well, being chronically ill) is that it’s often “invisible.” Nobody can SEE that my stomach is torturing me 9 out of 10 days. People can’t look at me and KNOW I’m exhausted—mentally, emotionally, and physically—and am having difficulty keeping up socially. And people can’t understand how someone who’s active and fit and essentially healthy-looking can feel aches and pains and tenderness all over.
During one of my flare-ups, I broke out in a terrible rash. Now that people could see. And for a moment, they believed. But when the rash cleared away, so did their empathy. “Well, you’re better now, right?”
It’s enough to make a person want to keep one of the biggest parts of their very being—something that impacts their every single day—buried. A deep, dark secret. And that’s exactly what many of us do.
Let me take you back (I’m talking way back to elementary school). One of my autoimmune conditions is Celiac disease, meaning I can’t eat gluten. Translation: I can’t have regular cookies, cakes, pizzas, and other deliciously unhealthy foods kids are often fed at parties.
Can you see where this is going?
As a child, anything that makes you “different” is like a huge target on your forehead: “Hey, let’s ask this girl a bunch of questions about her rice cakes and then tease her about them!”
What little girl wants to be asked: “Does it give you diarrhea?” Cue synchronized “Ewwwws!”
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, things were even harder. It seems like allergies, chronic illnesses, and food intolerances are much more widely accepted these days. Probably because my generation was eternally traumatized by the incessant shaming we received and wanted our children’s lives to be better, but I digress.
Let’s fast-forward, shall we?
It’s 2010 and I’ve just graduated from college (later than my peers, but #healthprobs). I landed a shiny marketing job in a shinier high-rise. I lasted all of 8 months. Partly because the job sucked—truly—and partly because I had a terrible flare-up that made me chronically fatigued, constantly achy, and caused my body to become one big rash.
I should mention, I was a newlywed. Let me tell you, this isn’t a great way to kick off a marriage.
It felt like an utter failure. I felt like a failure.
By the way, stress often compounds chronic health problems, so I was stuck in a vicious cycle of “I have to get out of this soul-sucking job” and “I’m too exhausted to look for a new one.”
If you have an autoimmune disease, I’m sure you know this cycle all too well. Chronic illness is no joke.
THE TURNING POINT
While still miserably employed, I began doing a lot of research about freelance writing. I’d always loved writing, and I’m pretty bossy, so writing for a living and being my own boss sounded like a solid plan.
Eventually, I landed a contract as a website content manager and editor…and it changed my life.
I got my first taste of working from home. No commute! No fluorescent lights! All-day access to foods I can eat! All-day access to my own bathroom! (#sorrynotsorry)
Look, for some, the work-from-home is a perk. For those with an autoimmune disease or chronic illness, it just might be a necessity.
After attending graduate school, I did end up back in the 9-to-5, but not for long. By then, I knew what was possible, what I was capable of, and the lifestyle I needed to be happy AND healthy.
In 2014, I quit my cubicle job and set out as a freelance writer and marketing consultant and haven’t looked back. My business has grown and evolved in unexpected ways over the years, and today, I’m a successful branding and marketing coach living life on my terms.
To be honest, I owe my tenacity, confidence, ingenuity, and creativity to my health issues. Mostly because you have to be all those things when navigating life with a chronic illness.
But also because our biggest “flaws” and barriers can actually be our greatest assets. It all comes down to how we choose to leverage our experiences and define our successes.
I choose to view my failed attempts at being a good employee as a major win: I followed my true calling and became happily self-employed.
I choose to frame my history of illness not as a negative, confidence-crushing experience, but instead as a battle that I’m still fighting and that makes me stronger every day.
I choose to perceive the daily challenges that come with the autoimmune disease territory as tests of my mental and emotional resilience.
I choose to see my disease not as “the enemy,” but as something that has shaped me in every way—that continually forces me to seek and forge alternative paths that ultimately lead to the same great heights as my healthy counterparts.
Any script can be flipped. Any flaw can be made your bitch. Any story can be rewritten.
#DespiteMyHistory, I’ve prevailed. Thanks to my chronic illness, I’m a badass.
What stories are you rewriting?
About the Author
Erin Sanchez is a marketing and branding coach helping women get visible, credible, and memorable online so they can explode their reputations and their bank accounts. She lives in the Greater Seattle Area with four dogs and five chickens. When she’s not enjoying the outdoors, you can usually find her blogging or watching true crime shows. Erin’s philosophy is simple: Live life on your terms (and drink lots of coffee). You can join Erin’s free Facebook community for daily inspiration, business training, and support right here >> bit.ly/rebelclub
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