One of the hardest parts about having a chronic illness is feeling like I have less value because I am not contributing as much to the community as my peers. Before I got sick I was working toward pursuing a career in journalism. I took internships, worked part time at a newspaper, and was excited to continue my journey working at Seventeen magazine to hopefully impact young women in a positive way. I have always felt that words are one of the most powerful tools we have, and all of us have a wonderful opportunity to lift others up and make them feel less alone in this big world.
I always dread the question, “So, what do you do?” when I meet someone new. I hate explaining right off the bat, “Well, I got sick when I graduated from college, so I’m trying to get back on my feet and am working on getting my health in line.” Over five years later now I have made leaps and bounds in progress, but I still am figuring out how to manage what I’ve begun to accept as my new normal. Not only is my answer incredibly awkward, but I also just feel so lame not having a cool job or anything to show for my life. I worked so freaking hard before I got sick and have absolutely nothing to show for it anymore. The internship I had at a national news company isn’t relevant anymore, and my job at Seventeen wasn’t able to materialize into what it could have because I couldn’t even walk down the driveway to the mailbox when I first got sick. My illness didn’t just take my body away from me; it took away every sense of normalcy I had ever worked to create. I have nothing to be proud of, and feels like I can’t make an adequate contribution to society anymore. I have relied on others to take care of me, when all I have ever wanted to do was be able to take care of others.
If anyone who had a chronic illness told me they felt worthless, my heart would feel completely broken and I would try as hard as I possibly could to show them what an enormous, ugly lie that was. People shouldn’t feel like they don’t have worth in this world just because their body doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. Our value does not reside in what we do — or don’t do — for a living, and people can still change lives when their bodies don’t work properly.
Whether or not you are a Christian, I think the Bible has a really beautiful sentiment about our worth as human beings. Psalm 139: 13-14 says, “For You [God] formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well.” This doesn’t say that we have value because of our job or what we do; it says we were born having value. We are made in God’s image, and He only creates beauty for the world. I think it’s very powerful knowing that even before ever doing anything in the world we have irreplaceable value. Just ask a mother of a newborn baby; she will say that her child means absolutely everything to her, and that is merely for existing, it isn’t anything he has done to make her feel this way.
I am a firm believer that everyone has a purpose in the world and can make a difference in a way that no one else could. Just because you are bedridden or need to be taken care of absolutely does not mean you don’t have value in the world. You have qualities to offer people that make you absolutely irreplaceable in their lives, so we need to stop telling ourselves the lie that we aren’t as valuable because we are different.
On the other hand, I understand the ache that is in your heart for the opportunities you have missed and feeling like some of life has passed you by. I don’t have the resume I would have had if I hadn’t gotten sick, and there are a lot of experiences I missed out on. It’s weird listening to my friends all talk about what they’re doing at work and how comfortable they are there. I still remember working at the magazine’s office like it was yesterday, but I also think that experience was so different because you’re the lowest on the totem pole. Dealing with an illness does teach you what is important in the world, though, and gives amazing perspective people often don’t have until much later on in life. It teaches you to hold on to all the amazing blessings you are given, because sometimes they can be fleeting, and to be thankful for the people closest to you. It teaches lessons of patience, hard work, and resilience. You learn what it’s like to be empathetic with people, rather than just offering sympathy, and you are given an opportunity to be a light for others who go through the exact same things you deal with on an every day basis. Chronic illness builds beautiful warriors who have such important lessons they need to share with the world.
I understand questioning your worth as much as anyone else with a chronic illness, and I am right there with you trying to find my own purpose. The words I wrote on this page make sense to my brain and I know that my life has incredible value, but my heart sometimes has a hard time making the connection. I feel lost in a big world that doesn’t understand me, and I am getting swallowed up in the lies I tell myself at night. Being sick has taught me I’m a fighter, though, and I’m not going to stop searching until I figure out what I’m here for. Deep down I know I have an important role in the world. I just might take a little longer to figure out what it is and that’s okay.