What’s your plan for retirement? Does nothing concrete come to mind? What about in 10 years, or maybe just five? What about tomorrow, or this evening? I admit to drawing a blank in my mind to most of these questions. As someone who lives with chronic illnesses (like ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome), fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, and more). Life’s just more unpredictable than it’s already reputed to be.
So what do we do? Everyone has a life plan; isn’t that supposed to be important? It’s easy to spiral down into despair, frustration, and self-loathing when we can’t plan for and reach these standard milestones in life. Everyone seems to be adulting, while it feels like you’re just some helpless kid.
The Frustration of the Unpredictable Life with Chronic Illness
The only steady companion throughout my journey with chronic illness thus far is fear; how can it not be when pain and uncertainty fill your days? It’s natural as human beings to seek out some sort of stability in life. To have a broken boat for a permanent home is stressful. My eyes are always on the horizon watching out for the next storm that I know will come. It’s just a matter of “when.” Surrounding me is a vast expanse of gloomy unknown, with hidden predators lurking beneath.
My life definitely comes with higher chances of unpredictability. Yet the average person’s life can also change in an instant, and sometimes in even bigger ways. As much as I fear the days of my “retirement,” I must say that I’ve made it through life pretty okay so far. I have supportive people to thank for this, but the decisions I’ve made, and the struggles I’ve endured have played a part, too.
Let’s take a look at some ways to cope with an uncertain future.
1. Do Not Become Your Own Biggest Obstacle.
Life has a sense of humor and wisdom beyond feeble mortal reasoning. Dealing with pain is hard enough work as it is without the added stress of over-expectations and self-imposed rules! I find it helpful to redefine my expectations according to my current capacity and not someone else’s, if I am to begin living a fulfilling life at all.
In a bid to remove as many obstacles along my path as possible, I need to be careful of not becoming my own biggest hindrance. It is a constant process of learning how to take down these self-erected barriers of guilt and blame. Padding my shoes with self-care is essential for going further. Life is a marathon, yet I often forget to keep myself hydrated with self-belief. Looking at the lanes to my left and right aren’t helpful either — how does it help with my journey forward?
“There are plenty of difficult obstacles in your path. Don’t allow yourself to become one of them.”
– Ralph Marston
Subscribe to the World's Most Popular Fibromyalgia Newsletter (it's free!)
2. There is No Right or Wrong Way to Live Your Own Life.
Another point I’d like to highlight is that there’s more than one way to live your life. There are billions of people on this planet, and every single one of us has variable ideas of what a good life looks like. In fact, you might not even agree with a majority of these views.
Some people call life a journey, some call it a dream, an art, or even a joke. I think it’s a combination of them all; life is what I want it to be. We all have our own balls to juggle no matter who we are. But living with chronic illness is like having more balls to juggle, or doing so with an injured hand. It can be tough but I have to try, and it will get better with practice.
3. There is Magic in the Unknown, Too.
Sometimes, to not know where I’m going to end up can be a pleasant surprise, too. It adds a bit of magic to the journey and spices things up. It can create extraordinary memories that are worth remembering. It also fills the gaping holes of drab routines with the colors of meaning. What I fill these holes with is up to me — there is no right or wrong way to color. But I want to encourage you to take life by the hand and let her lead the way, because she will never lead you astray.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”
– Lewis Carroll
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on November 22, 2017 and was updated on October 21, 2020.
Sheryl runs “A Chronic Voice”, a health, wellness, and chronic illness blog. She had a mini stroke at 14, followed by multiple blood clots, seizures, heart rhythm dysfunctions and surgeries over the years. She also has a gore-tex band in replacement of a heart valve. She shares her experiences in hope that it raises awareness on silent disabilities and to let others know they are not alone in this. You can follow her on social media here: