Being in your 20s, from what I can tell, is complicated and hard and challenging for most people. For those who are chronically ill and mentally ill at the same time, like I am, it holds its own unique challenges.
Is being 25 with bipolar disorder, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Chiari Malformation, and several other conditions harder than any other way of being 25? I honestly couldn’t tell you, nor would I want to. Honestly, nothing truly good seems to come from comparing one person’s story o another. Everyone’s life holds its own unique challenges.
What I do know is my own experience, and that each day that I live with both mental and physical chronic illness feels like a day that I am further piecing together a puzzle of how to best live a whole life of wellness and be the person God created me to be, one piece at a time.
Some days, the pieces slide into place easier than others. Some days, it seems like I’ve completed a whole corner or side to the puzzle, only to completely demolish that corner and start over in a few days or a few months and a few years.
There are many questions to ask as I assemble the puzzle, questions I can begin to answer now and questions I can’t. Some of these are questions all twenty-somethings are asking, while some of these are questions in which my chronic illnesses play a unique role. How do I find employment that is meaningful, something that is not just a job but a career, something that I can be happy at over a period of time and where I can feel like I’m making a difference? And how can I do that work and still take care of myself at the same time? Is it even possible to work in a helping profession while living with chronic pain? How long will I even be able to work at all? Is it a career I can work long term on a split shift, so I can come home and rest in the middle?
Where should we settle down and make roots? Should it be in a place where I feel drawn, but am farther from family, or where I am closer to family who can help me through my illness, but have to leave meaningful work I love?
And what about family? I had my daughter when I was 22, before I was really sick, which I am really thankful for. But my choice to not have a second child is definitely hugely based on my health and my ability to dedicate myself to my daughter but still focus on myself.
Where does balance, in general, fall into my life? How do I fit my faith in? Do I choose Bible reading, or sleep? Which will help me be more well rounded in the long run? What church do I choose? What church family will support me best professionally, personally, as a mother, as a wife, and as an ill person? Is there even a church that can fulfill all those roles? Will I find time to volunteer? Where does being a friend fall in the midst of all of that? How can I support my friends best admist their lives while seeking adequate support for myself as well, without feeling like a burden?
Notice that this post has ended up being a lot of questions, and very few answers. I think that’s ok, because that’s where I am in life right now. It’s a fairly good place, but it’s a very open-ended place. It could go in many different ways, and there are many, many considerations to make.
These considerations are definitely affected in ways both big and small by my chronic physical and mental illnesses. There is absolutely no avoiding that. These illnesses will be there for the rest of my life, so just like anything else that will be there for the rest of my life, they must be considered when I and my husband make major life decisions. But that is not necessarily a bad thing.
As I work on my 2017 goal word of wellness in each area of my life, chronic illness helps bring definition to my life and helps me trust God moreso than I probably would without this specific set of challenges. While some days, I find very little to be thankful about my chronic and mental illness battle, on other days I am able to reframe these battles and see the ways they help make me stronger earlier in my life. I can’t wait to see the definition they continue to bring, because if I am going to continue to have them, I am going to continue to make the most of them.