For years after I was diagnosed with several chronic illnesses, I was angry.
No, I was furious.
The life I knew and loved had been taken away from me and all the things I wanted to do — such as travel the world — were no longer viable.
I felt trapped, like my life was over.
And in a way, it was. The life I knew was over.
But a new one was just starting.
It took me a few years, but I gradually begun to realize that life with chronic illnesses was teaching me some valuable lessons.
Lesson one: I became more determined.
There was one thing I could still do, and that was write. For so long, I’d dreamed of being a writer, but I’d assumed it would be a hobby, that I’d do it alongside another job.
Now, however, I can’t manage a regular job, and so my illnesses have made me determined to be a successful writer as it’s the one thing I can still do.
And aged nineteen, I signed my first book deal.
I’m now twenty-four, and I’ve got five novels out.
I’m sure if I hadn’t developed these chronic illnesses, I wouldn’t have been as focused and determined. My illnesses motivate me to write.
Lesson two: I became more creative.
It wasn’t just my writing that blossomed as a result of my illness. It was my creativity.
I suddenly wanted to draw again. I wanted to find a way I could express myself and, most importantly, express my feelings.
I turned to art as a form of escapism, and it really helped me.
And I quickly discovered I’m not the only one whose illness fueled creativity. Many chronically ill people write and draw and sew and crochet. Being creative is therapeutic.
Lesson three: I became a better listener and a better thinker
This is something I almost pride myself on now. Becoming chronically ill has definitely made me better at listening to others.
It’s given me time too, time to think things over – such as when I’m in hospital.
Lesson four: I’m more mindful of others’ feelings
Being chronically ill has made me more empathetic to others’ struggles and helped me relate to their pain. This goes hand in hand with being a better listener too, and I feel my illnesses have really made me more mature and I hope I am good at helping others.
Because I really want to help others.
This is so important to me. My close friends have always been there for me throughout my struggles with my health, and I want to be there for them too. I want to help them. And my illnesses have made me more patient.
Lesson five: I’m better at looking after others when they’re unwell and understanding their frustrations around being unwell.
Before I became chronically ill, I wasn’t as sympathetic to chronic illness as I am now. I guess I just couldn’t understand how someone could be unwell all the time. It seemed absurd.
But it doesn’t seem absurd now. And it’s made me believe others when they tell me how unwell they are – and made me see that a lot of people hide their illnesses through fear, denial, and anger.
Lesson six: I’m a better friend
I really hope this one is true.
Living with chronic illnesses has made me realise how grateful I am when people reach out to me to check how I am, and I regularly try and do this with others, even when I’m absolutely exhausted and struggling with my health.
Lesson seven: I’ve met the most amazing people
If I hadn’t become chronically ill, I’d have far fewer friends. The support groups I’m in for my illnesses have connected me with all sorts of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. And some of my closest friends are people I’ve met this way.
I really feel honoured to be friends with all of them, and we’ve become a close-knit group who looks out for each other. And we understand each other. I think that’s the important thing here. We can all relate to being chronically ill, and we don’t judge each other as able-bodied and healthy people might (even if it’s unintentional).
So although being chronically ill sucks and has taken away a lot of things from me, changing my life dramatically, it’s also made me into a better person, I’m sure. And it’s the positives I want to focus on, and need to focus on, else the weight of the illness becomes too much.
Madeline Dyer is a young adult novelist. She also writes personal essays on topics such as mental health, disability, and neuropsychiatry. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @MadelineDyerUK and visit her website www.MadelineDyer.co.uk. If you’d like to keep up to date with her writing, you can follow her on Facebook for both her novels and her personal essays.