Yesterday was my three year anniversary of being diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. I actually went back to the scene of the crime — the beach — this weekend, and although it felt bittersweet being somewhere amazing and having to take frequent breaks to rest, it got me thinking about just how far I’ve come.
I decided to take a little time to list a few things I’ve learned the past couple of years. This has easily been the most I have grown in my entire life, as new challenges seem to arise every step of the way fighting for recovery. Having something life-changing pop up so quickly drastically changes every aspect of your life, but I do believe there is a reason this happened and that there are several positive things I have learned from this experience.
Things You Learn From Having A Chronic Illness
1. You learn how to ask for help. I have always prided myself on being incredibly independent, so one of the most difficult things with getting sick has been learning how to tell people I need help with really simple tasks. When I first got POTS I couldn’t even climb up a flight of stairs, so was constantly asking people to grab things from my room for me or running errands to get the salty snacks I needed so often.
It can still be frustrating, embarrassing, and uncomfortable, especially since I look so normal and sometimes have to enlist complete strangers to give me a hand. Although I am still working on asking for help when I need it, this has taught me just how beautifully kind people can be to one another. I have collected so many wonderful stories that I don’t even know which one I should choose for this post.
I suppose I’ll tell a very simple story that this person probably doesn’t even remember, but that left an impact on me. Last year in one of my PWR (Professional Writing and Rhetoric) classes, we had to gather a small collection of textbooks from the library and carry them back to our classroom. It was the first day of the semester and I didn’t know anyone in my class, but had to swallow my pride and ask a guy in the class to help me carry my backpack full of books back to our room, as I am not supposed to carry more than five pounds. He smiled, told me it wasn’t a problem at all, and asked me about other things in my life, rather than focusing on the illness that I had tried to quickly explain to him. I felt so much more thankful than this gentleman could ever know, and to this day remember this little act of kindness when I see him in class.
2. You lose friends, but also get to learn who will be a part of your life forever. I was shocked to see some relationships I thought would be lasting friendships crumble when I got sick. Towards the beginning of my illness I couldn’t do very much other than lie on my couch and chat. Sometimes I felt well enough to sit up and play N64, but that was only on a good day. Some of my friends decided they didn’t have anything in common with me anymore since I couldn’t really go out, and others just gradually drifted away. The most wonderful thing about this, though, was that I also learned that I have fiercely loyal friends who have kept in touch and loved me so selflessly since I got sick. Most of these people haven’t suffered from an illness themselves, but try their hardest to and realize I still have the same heart (Even if it does beat much faster than it used to sometimes) and am still the same person, despite not being able to do many of the same activities anymore.
Overall I have actually gained even more friends than I used to have in my life. Some people who have read my story on social media have reached out and formed friendships with me, and I have been able to empathize with so many other people I would not have originally realized I had things in common with. It’s great being able to empathize with people who are struggling with big life changes, as we can lean on each other for understanding and support.
3. Meeting new people is a little strange. I’m different in so many ways since I got sick. I can’t control that I have to be high maintenance sometimes now, so even though my mindset is the same and I don’t like to inconvenience anyone, I have a little laundry list of things I must do to keep from fainting or feeling sick every day. I’ve had to be vocal about changing around plans a little when they don’t work for me or I sometimes miss out on activities I normally would have loved to partake in. A big part of my personality used to be that I loved playing sports and doing anything and everything outdoors. Now I have a hard time being out in the heat too long and I can’t really play a lot of my favorite games because of the chronic pain I deal with. The bright side of everything, though? I have actually found new activities that I really enjoy. I now love playing a few different video games, baking, listening to podcasts, strategic board games, and I still have room for my favorite activity of all — writing!
My new friends may not know the Krista that was carefree and crazily spontaneous, but they do still get to see my thoughtfulness and kindness towards others in our relationship. I have struggled a lot the past few years, but I like to think of the positive qualities I have gained, rather than the physical limitations that are now a part of my life.
4. People want to help. I’ve learned that so many people have such beautiful hearts and actually go out of their way to make things easier on me. I have a few friends in particular who consistently drive several hours to come and hang out with me since I can’t drive more than about fifteen minutes at a time without really feeling it the next day. My girl friends have gotten so used to helping that I don’t even need to ask them to carry my Smart Water around anymore — they just grab it from my hand without missing a beat.
5. God is good. I felt devastated when I first got sick, but I somehow have had an overwhelming peace with everything the majority of the time I have dealt with the loss of a normal body. I never in a million years would have thought I could deal with something like this, but I have been given a strength that absolutely blows my mind when I think about it. I am not someone who is just naturally great at dealing with curveballs life throws at me, (I’m actually notoriously bad at dealing with change) and the only logical thing I can attribute this to is Jesus and all of the people who have been praying for me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Having POTS has changed my life in so many ways. If I could heal myself now I would in an instant, but I also would not trade everything that I’ve learned for the world. I have found the value of compassion and empathy. Dealing with a chronic illness has taught me to cherish the relationships I have and it has taught me just how important it is to choose people to be with who can handle hardships in a relationship.
I still don’t feel like some parts of this are real. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to wake up one day and this whole ordeal was just a bad dream and that I’ll have my old body back. I daydream about playing volleyball or running again. I sit by the ocean and remember the days that I used to skip around and play in the water and what it was like learning how to surf. Waking up one day and being completely better is pretty unlikely, but I’m going to work as hard as I can to have a normal life again, and if nothing else I realize how lucky I am for getting so much better. Even if I can’t play sports right now, I have so many things to be joyful for, and I thank God for these blessings each and every day.