15 Life Lessons I Learned While Living With A Chronic Illness In My 20s


I was first diagnosed with autoimmune disease when I was 22, right after graduating from college—you know, during that unsettling time in your life when you realize for the first time that you have no freaking clue what you’re doing.

I’ve always been the “silver lining” kind of girl. But y’all, that doesn’t mean I am free of fear and anxiety. Our physical bodies so often mimic our mental state. So it should not come as a surprise that during this time of internal strife, my body also began to attack itself from the inside out.

Since then, I have been on an incredible journey of diagnoses, healing, relapses, but also learning, recalibrating, and being okay with just doing my best in each moment with what I have.

Maybe I am biased, but I think that in general, the twenties are a wild ride for everyone. No one really knows what they’re doing. Courses change multiple times, and there are high highs and low lows of relationships, new jobs, relocations, etc. Add on a serious, life-changing disease that few doctors understand, and you’ve got yourself quite a story.

I’ll save the details of my illness for later, but for now, it feels like the right time to simply give thanks for all that my twenties have taught me. And hopefully, you can find pieces of this that resonate with you, chronic illness or not.

1. Get rid of the physical shit that weighs you down.

Seriously, Marie Kondo was on to something. After being diagnosed with biotoxin illness and being forced to get rid of everything that could potentially contain invisible mold spores, including all furniture, paper products, books, and anything containing porous material that could not be properly cleaned, you start to truly realize how much stuff is actually weighing you down. I was resistant at first, but in the long run, this was so freeing and eye opening. Just do it.

2. There is something to be said for the setbacks.

Each speed bump slows you down, but they are not designed to stop you. The setbacks make you stronger. And I have found that you bounce back quicker each time. May the speed bump give you the spring to your step.

3. A body in motion stays in motion.

As best you can, and I truly mean as best you can, keep moving. The meaning of the word “motion” might change every day, and that is okay. Do your best, but keep your energy up as much as possible by moving. No excuses. “I feel better sitting on my ass all day every day,” said no one ever.

4. Ride the wave.

Nothing is guaranteed. I’m not the first person to share the truth that you never know what each day will bring, but living with chronic illness puts this in a whole different light. Settle in to each moment—good or bad—and just be here now. If this was all there was, would you still choose joy?

5. Your body is the only home your soul will ever have while alive on this earth.

Treat it as such. And never forget that without your health, you really have nothing.

6. This too shall pass, but good things do NOT have to come to an end.

Let go of the fear that you might be sick again one day or that bad things might happen to you. A lot of things could happen “some day.” Worrying about the future is the worst kind of time waste.

7. Adopt the “I shit my pants” barometer.

If you can’t openly share your “I shit my pants in public” moments with your loved ones and still be loved, then they aren’t your people. One day I was sitting in my friends’ kitchen and this topic came up and we reminisced about some of the most embarrassing moments of our adult lives. And we laughed our asses off. I remember thinking, “Wow, it’s not just me. Why did this take me so long to figure out?” It’s never JUST YOU. Life is too short for mediocre relationships. Find the ones you can share the shit with.

8. People mostly have good intentions.

And while they might not always understand exactly what you are going through, there are SO many people surrounding you who want to support you. BUT you have to freaking let them. Open your heart, share your story, and let people rally around you.

9. Don’t you EVER buy into the belief that you ARE a diagnosis.

You’re so much more than a few words strung together by medical professionals. The diagnosis gives you direction, but it gives no weight to what you are capable of accomplishing next, and it most certainly has nothing to do with who you are. And regardless of how weak you feel physically, never believe that that is a representation of your mental state. You are strong. Period. The end.

10. Don’t believe what they tell you about something being chronic or incurable.

I know I said I’m the silver lining girl, but seriously, your cells listen to the words you speak and the thoughts you think! You might be shocked at how many people have experienced miraculous healings for virtually EVERY disease. Your body can heal itself given half a chance, and especially when you believe in it.

11. Start viewing the B.S. you have to endure through the lens of “Maybe this will be a good story later.”

This is one of my favorites. I love telling stories, and I can tell you that I have a hell of a lot of good ones. And how do I have these stories? From choosing to view my everyday life through this lens of “this might suck now, but man, it might be funny later.” If nothing else, you’ll make yourself laugh, and that’s definitely worth it.

12. Stop thinking that it’s too damn hard.

It’s not hard, and remember? You are strong. Chances are, you are overcomplicating it because you don’t want to do the thing you know you must do. I’m not saying you won’t have moments of understandable overwhelm (that’s life!), but don’t justify a lack of action because “it’s too hard.” Keep it simple and just start where you are. As soon as you buy in to the idea that healing or life is hard, guess what? It is.

13. You are never alone.

We are each equipped with invisible forces—spirit guides, Teams of Light, whatever you want to call it—which carry us through the darkest times of our lives. Chronic illness has opened my heart even more to these guardians, which are such an important presence in my everyday life. You’re not meant to do this life alone. Let the magic in.

14. There’s always a blessing, and if you can’t see it yet, keep looking or be patient.

We are finite beings who sometimes can’t see the reason or timing for certain events until much later. Just keep your eyes on the blessing prize. Maybe the blessing is for you, but hopefully you will also use your story to bless others.

15. Find the win in every day.

There is something in each day to be grateful for. Even on the days you can’t move or the days your pain seems too much to bear, there is some miracle moment, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant—it’s just your choice whether to celebrate or ignore the win.

While my health journey has been one of my greatest traumas to date, I have chosen to view it as one of my greatest gifts. I know that I can’t yet see all of the repercussions, and when I reread this post in 10 years, I hope I laugh at myself and say, “Wow, Em, you really had no idea how this would all play out!”

Life has so much to share with us, if we will only open our hearts to the magic. As for me, I never want to stop learning and growing and I look forward to what my 30s, 40s, and beyond hold.

So wherever you are right now, in the midst of these times when you feel like your world is ending, may you never forget that you are strong, capable, loved. That the odds are always in your favor. That this is all happening FOR you, whether you can see it yet or not.

May you never forget the undeniable truth that you are never alone.

May you continue to dream. To choose joy. To laugh. To spin the drama and the tragedy into your greatest comedy and triumph.

And no matter how long it takes to heal, no matter how many times you fail or relapse, just make sure that you always, always RISE.

That, my dear, says more about you than anything else ever will.