The 10 Things People with Chronic Illness or Pain Need to Know

making peace with chronic conditions, maggie mcreynoldsNote: I have lived with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia most of my adult life. Whereas once I struggled, fought, and suffered, now—even though I still work towards partial or full recovery—I live in the present with what is, and I live a darned good life as a result. Here’s how:

  1. Your physical condition does not define who you are. As all-consuming as dealing with physical limitations can be, you are more than the things you can or can’t do. You are your ability to give and receive love. You are the unique sculpture that is your soul. You are your interests, your passions, your distinctive point of view. You are also not your societal roles, your bank account, or your stuff. You are simply, beautifully, miraculously you, the only you there will ever be for all time. It really is enough.
  2. Any chronic condition waxes and wanes. When we have good days, we can scarcely imagine what it was like to be so sick. Unfortunately, it tends to work in reverse, too—when we have bad days, we can’t imagine feeling otherwise. Do yourself a favor. On a good day, write a letter to your future self, the one who’s having a bad day. Describe in rich detail what a good day feels like. Remind yourself that good days–or at least not-so-crappy days-do come back around. Print it out and tape it or post it somewhere where you can easily find it, no matter how sick or stressed you may feel.
  3. There is really nothing in the world that is universally good or bad. Even the best thing in the world has a downside or two. And even the most terrible tragedy imaginable can contain a gift within it. How many good things have come out of your challenges? I guarantee you’ll find more than one.
  4. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Operate from the assumption that they are doing the best they can with whatever they have to work with at the time. That guy at the mall who told you he wishes HE could ride the mobility scooter ’cause his feet hurt? He’s just trying to connect with you—hey, at least he didn’t pretend you weren’t there. And about those people who pretend you’re not there. They actually think they’re helping you by not making you feel self-conscious.
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How to Stop Half-Assing Your Life

half-assed life, maggie mcreynolds blogFrom the time I became an adult, I wasted the last two months of every year.

You see, my birthday falls in November, about two weeks after Halloween. Between finishing all the candy and planning the ultimate celebration, there was no way I was going to change any behaviors, start anything new, launch an initiative, or do any soul-searching. No, all that could wait until I turned (insert age here).

But, see, Thankgiving comes two weeks after that—a holiday which I often used to host for as many as 25 people. I was hardly going to start a diet, look for a new job, renegotiate my relationship with my spouse (or with myself) before that was over. And so I waited some more.

But what happens after Thanksgiving? Well, Christmas. I had to get busy shopping—here it was, Black Friday, and I hadn’t bought a thing yet! There was a tree to decorate, cookies to be baked, presents to be wrapped, cards to be sent. It took the whole month of December. And of course the last week of the month would be recovery and the slide into New Year’s Eve.

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The Waiting Room

When I was about eight years old, I used to spend a lot of time hanging out by my family’s mailbox. Not because I was waiting for the mail, I hasten to add, but because I was waiting for my best friend, playing in her yard across the street with someone else, to invite me to play, too.

waiting room, maggie mcreynolds blogUnderstand, this was my best friend. And whoever she was playing with was usually someone I knew from the neighborhood. And yet I was too—shy? afraid of rejection? proud?—to ask if I could join in.

So instead, I would simply put myself on display at the farthest-most reaches of my driveway, hoping desperately to be noticed. I’d twirl on the mailbox. I’d examine, with feigned intense interest, small rocks on the ground. I’d jump rope, seemingly vigorously counting my skips—but in truth, counting how many seconds had gone by and calculating how long I could continue to hang about without looking stupid.

But my best friend never asked me to join in. Not once.

How awful! How exclusionary! How snobby! But look at it from her likely perspective: HER best friend was playing by herself, rather stand-offishly, across the street, and not just calling out or coming over and asking to join in. They probably thought I was the snob.

I spent an awful lot of my youth waiting to be noticed and for others to intuit what I wanted: walking my dog an embarrassing number of times past the house where my crush lived; studying in the student union where the guy I adored from afar worked; standing just outside a group of people talking at a cocktail party, hoping to be included; pointedly arriving before the boss did and leaving after she did in the hopes it would lead to a promotion.

It never once occurred to me to simply ask for what I wanted.

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