How to Find a Purpose with Chronic Illness
A year ago, I dropped out of school for the second time.
School had always been my strong point. I got straight As, held several leadership roles, and just generally enjoyed learning. I was known as “the smart one” among my friends. And then I got sick.
While the first time was hard, for some reason having to do it again was much worse. I felt like even more of a failure. It seemed that as soon as things started looking up, they came crashing right back down.
For a while, I didn’t know what to do. I had no drive, no energy, no motivation, nothing. I felt like I had nothing to offer the world and wondered what the point of existence was.
That might seem a bit dramatic to some, but those of us with chronic illnesses know the feeling all too well. When your main source of identity is no longer an option, life feels sort of empty. After losing a big part of yourself to your illness, it’s easy to fall into the trap of making your illness your identity instead or feeling like you have nothing to live for.
Finding an identity is hard, even without chronic illness, but you need to find a purpose in things that aren’t limited by your fluctuating health, other people’s opinions, or things you can no longer do.
Here are five steps I found really helpful to find a new purpose with chronic illness.
1. Find something, anything that makes you happy within your limits.
Experiment with this constantly! Try new things within your energy limits. This could be a form of adaptive sports, a type of art, writing, cooking, a new video game, or even a TV show. Anything you can look forward to is something you should prioritize.
For example, I love to do puzzles, read new fictional books to escape into other worlds, and spend time with my family and friends. I also personally find my identity in my faith, so going to church and attending virtual bible studies is something I prioritize.
2. Challenge yourself to do one thing each day that you enjoy that isn’t related to your health.
It is so easy to fill all of our time with health-related activities. While that may seem beneficial, it can also be incredibly overwhelming and stressful. Doing one thing that you enjoy every day is a form of self-care, and I find it fun to think of new things to try every once in a while.
I try to choose things that distract my brain completely and things that I can get lost in. It makes my illness feel a little smaller for a short time, and I can forget about it for a bit.
You’ll find over time that there are specific things that you gravitate towards after doing this for a while. Those things are your main interests, and they can lead you through the next few steps.
3. Find a group of like-minded people.
Once you find something that you enjoy, search for groups of like-minded people. There are groups on Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit for any hobby you could possibly think of. It can be beneficial to find a chronic illness group, but it can also be nice to get involved in a group solely focused on your interests instead.
When you find a group, start connecting! Have fun with the other group members and engage with them as you are able. If you can only manage a ten minute conversation once a week, have a ten minute conversation once a week. Connecting with others online is an easy way to fight the isolation that comes with having a chronic illness.
4. Find something you can do to give back.
With all of the technological advancements, there are ways to help others no matter what your ability level or health status. You can try volunteering online, sharing your story through social media or writing, or simply being an engaging member of your hobby groups!
Giving back to the community doesn’t have to be big or energy-draining. There are millions of ways to feel like you are contributing and making a difference.
Organizations like Fight Like a Warrior and the Dysautonomia Support Network (dysautonomiasupport.org) are great ways to get involved in the community from your couch!
5. Remember your worth is not measured by your productivity.
You will still have bad days and days where your illness takes over. You will have days where you can’t get out of bed. That’s okay. That doesn’t make you a failure, and you still matter.
Use the bad days as a rest and refresh point. Start over new and try again the next day.
Do something fun that makes your heart sing, and hold on to those memories for the bad days. Finding a new purpose is hard, and it can feel too overwhelming to even begin when first diagnosed or sick. But it is crucial to your overall wellbeing and mental health.