I was introduced to this week’s Gauntlet Story Feast writer, Rachel, through Sam Re’s story published two weeks ago. Rachel’s book, The Reality of Chronic Illness is an achingly beautiful account about what it’s like to live in these broken bodies.
I’m Not Sorry
By Rachel Allison
I’ve been sick for three and a half years now. I’ve been through a lot. I’ve endured harder times than I knew were possible. And I’m not out of the woods yet. We believe my worst is behind me, but I’m still chronically ill and the road to recovery is long.
This journey has been emotional and spiritual as much as physical. Perhaps even more so. I’ve come so far from where I started and God has used this illness to grow my heart and faith in amazing ways. I still have scars, I still cry, I still have days where I wish it were over, and I still struggle. But the way that I trust God now is so much greater; the peace that I have is beyond words. The blessings have been just as overwhelming as the pain ever was.
Lately I’ve begun using this journey to bring understanding for those also fighting chronic illness. I’m sharing photos of the reality of my life to shed light on the real, raw facts of what it looks like to live with chronic illness day in and day out. The response has been astounding and I am beyond blessed, but also torn by some responses. The love, support, and sympathy of others means so much to me and I am in no way ungrateful, but I’m continually met with the response, “I feel so bad for you. I’m so sorry.” And that pains me.
I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I’m not sorry that I’ve endured this. There’s a fine line here that I need you to understand. Your compassion, understanding, patience, and sympathy means so much to me, whether I know you or not. I want people to understand what I’m going through. It’s hard when people don’t. And I understand that when people hurt it’s only human to hurt for them and with them. I’m not asking that you don’t sympathize with me on the rough days, but please don’t be sorry that this is my life.
My life is so blessed. My heart is so full. I would not trade these past years for the world and I’m not sorry that they’ve happened. I am in a season right now of being astounded by the blessings flowing from my illness. Without this illness I would never love like I do or be loved like I am. Without this illness I couldn’t reach out in such a profound way. Without this illness I wouldn’t know my God like I do. Without this illness I would not have the peace that I do, nor the understanding. Without this illness my faith would be so much weaker, my life so much emptier, and my heart so much darker.
For the longest time I felt cheated of the life I “deserved.” The life everyone else had. The growing up, a driver’s license, a job, moving out, a high school diploma, going to college. To me, that was life. A sign of life. A sort of “rights of passage” to adulthood. I put my identity in my academic standing. I wanted to excel, to be better than average. But chronic illness stepped in and now I’m searching out the easiest ways to complete the required tasks in order to graduate. This isn’t me. I don’t look for the “easy way out.” But the truth is that I’m simply not able to perform in school like I could before chronic illness. In order to get the same grade I did before I have to push myself so much harder than I ever did. And for a while I really struggled until I finally realized that I was putting too much of my identity in that.
Is it wrong to push yourself? No. Is it wrong to strive for excellence? No. It is good character to do your best in all you set your hands to; it’s not only good character, it’s a Christian attitude. And I will finish what I set out to do. I will receive my diploma, but it’s okay if it takes me a little longer or if I don’t do extra credit work or if I have days where school simply isn’t an option. Why? Because I am chronically ill. And that’s my life.
I understand that most people should graduate and go to college, but I’m not most people. I can’t be most people. And I don’t have to say no to those things, I just have to let go of what’s “normal” in that regard. I’ve let go of “normal” and it’s beyond freeing. With God’s help I will graduate and I will go to college, but I don’t have to do it like everyone else does. Most importantly, my identity isn’t found in whether it happens or not.
I want to get better, but I’m at peace with the journey I’m on. This is where God has me and it’s so much richer and more fulfilling than any of my dreams. I haven’t been cheated, I’ve been blessed. I’ve had to lose what I considered to be life to find out what life really is. Because health, momentary happiness, academics, and jobs are not life. You can have those things and not know life. I would rather face this every day and have these blessings than be counted successful by the world’s standards and have no peace. The wealth of God’s goodness flowing through my life outshines any achievement I could ever make and it’s guiding me to achieve things I never thought possible.
So please don’t be sorry I’m enduring this. I know you mean well, but in my ears those words sound as if you’re saying, “I’m sorry you’re so blessed. I’m sorry God is so good. I’m sorry you have to be loved by Him.” Instead, love me with a heart that says, “I know this hurts. It’s okay to cry. Let’s hold on to each other and do life together and watch God make beauty from this pain.”
Because I’m not sorry that my life is more beautiful than I ever could have dreamed.
*Since this post was first written on March 28th, 2014 I have continued in my recovery, graduated high school, and published a book documenting my life with chronic illness. You can order The Reality of Chronic Illness here.
Rachel Allison is a nineteen year old writer and photographer, living with Adrenal Fatigue (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and Dysautonomia since November 2010. She’s a lover of details, creativity, truth, understated elegance, words, and cheesy humor. She lives life with a passion for learning and a deep need for the God who created and cares for her. She blogs about life, faith, and photography at rachelallisonartist.com.
If you are walking a Gauntlet or are close to someone who is and would like to contribute to our Thursday community please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will send you the instructions for submitting. Share with anyone you know who might like to join our Gauntlet Story Feast. (Please use the hash tag #GauntletStoryFeast when sharing so we can find and follow one another.) Our Hope remains.
Photography by Rachel Allison. Used with permission.