The Silver Lining of Chronic Illness

Dr. Wirtz explains how chronic illness can bring us together to remember the important things in life.

By Dr. Rick Wirtz

There are lots of different sayings that have communicated the idea the good stuff often comes out of bad situations. In fact, this is not a new idea because some of those sayings are quite old.

Whether it’s cancer, heart disease or any other potentially life threatening, chronic medical conditions, there is almost always something positive that comes out of it. The almost universal gift is actually to the person with the disease and comes in the form of an appreciation of life and all its simple beauty. If you talk to someone who has just been diagnosed or experienced a life threatening medical event you will almost always hear about how they look at everything in their lives in a different fashion. They marvel at the beauty of a sunset, the first snow fall, or some other part of the natural world that they had taken for granted. Nothing is taken for granted and everything is viewed through “new eyes”. Things that used to upset them just don’t seem as important anymore because they “don’t sweat the small stuff”.

Another very common “silver lining” is what seems to happen to many relationships. Couples and families often talk about how they have been brought closer, sometimes to the point that longstanding disagreements and difficulties are put aside. Parents and their children often have more contact and couples often elect to take a special trip or spend more “quality time” with one another. Friends and acquaintances seem to come out of the woodwork to offer help in the form of cards, emotional support, food, errands, yard work, transportation to appointments and sometimes even money to help with medical expenses or to keep the household running.

Often, the person who has experienced the life threatening event or been diagnosed with the serious disease chooses to give up life-long habits that have been damaging to their health. They also often begin to eat better, exercise, and get more rest in addition to taking important medications much more faithfully than they had before.

It really isn’t too surprising that all of this happens. Like the old Joni Mitchell song said, “…you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone…” or at least until you recognize that it can be taken away. So, whether you have a life threatening disease or are in perfect health, live today as if it’s the last one you can count on and watch what kinds of great things can happen!

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