How to combat the ‘shoulds’ when you have a chronic illness

A columnist learns to walk her own path and cut the pressure of comparisons

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by Lara Govendo |

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Today’s society comes with the expectation that we should all meet certain life benchmarks by particular ages. We’re inundated with the “shoulds.” You should go to college and be successful right out the gate. You should get married by 25 years old and have kids at 26. You should have a house complete with the white picket fence by 30. The list goes on and on.

For the cystic fibrosis community — and indeed, across all chronic illnesses — the numbers may be different, to say the least. For us, it’s regular for health demands to interrupt everyday life constantly. I don’t get the privilege of planning my life as most people do. I have to be flexible in case my health requires my full attention.

Our culture also struggles with being present. I’ve noticed that when I accomplish something, people have trouble celebrating it without asking, “What’s next?” I’ve been intentional about reveling in the wins throughout my journey because I’ve worked so hard to earn them. I haven’t focused on knowing the next step as much as I’ve zeroed in on how awesome it feels to conquer a huge hurdle or complete a life goal.

Sometimes I’ve felt that I’m behind my peers, though, at least according to society’s standards. The enemy called comparison creeps in and tries to steal my thunder. The pressure to perform at a certain level and hit milestones as others do creates tension.

But I’m learning that it’s OK to be on a different timeline. I’m also reminding myself that I’ve had to overcome so much to get to where I am now, a thought that’s crucial for me when I feel driven to compare myself with others. I’m not where I want to be yet, but thank God I’m not where I was.

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Staying focused in your lane

I’ve learned that my life has value because I’m the one living it. I don’t need external proof from anyone of that truth. Each of us has a unique life path to lead, and those paths shouldn’t look the same — that would be boring. In fact, human beings are designed to be different from one another. We all have something to add to the collective.

Fasting from social media has been a game changer for me in this regard. It’s been healthy to unfollow accounts that make me feel that I’m behind in life or that someone else has a better life than I do. Instead, I focus on my own goals and accomplish them one at a time, which has been monumental for my growth. Surrounding myself with people who encourage my journey in every season is the only support I need.

What helps me in seasons of sickness is to be present while looking ahead. I want to learn everything that I can from all my seasons, even the ones when I’ve been the sickest and had to be homebound. During such times, I’ve made some lofty goals because they kept my eyes on the prize, which was fighting for my life. Having purpose gave me the vision to continue through any circumstance.

I’ve given myself permission to determine my own timeline, without any “shoulds.” Living with cystic fibrosis according to my own standards is the only way to accomplish what’s in my heart to do. I stopped looking from side to side at others and began focusing on the path ahead of me.

I’ve learned that when we forfeit the right to be ourselves, the most important pieces of us die. Allowing others to dictate how we think, feel, and act is the beginning of defeat. To live from a place of authenticity and our own definition of victory, we have to take ownership over our lives. We can control our thoughts, words, actions, and responses, often by where we direct our focus. We get to decide what to do with the time we’re granted — not anybody else.

Living according to my values has been the best decision I’ve made for myself. The world is constantly trying to drag my attention away from what’s most important to me, but I’m determined to stay focused on my individual path. I may not be on par with my peers, but for someone who’s lived through a dance with death, I dare to say that I’m right on time.

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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