I Say "I'm Fine" Even When I'm Struggling Because I Keep My Chronic Condition in Perspective

In my overly optimistic view on life, I believe that things can always be worse.
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Ashley Esper
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In my overly optimistic view on life, I believe that things can always be worse.

"I'm fine." 

Smile, because positivity is therapeutic.

Smile, because positivity is therapeutic.

This may be my most-frequented response to any inquiry regarding my well-being. Being chronically ill, I get asked about my health a lot, particularly by my family. It has gotten to the point where if I use the line with my mom, she gets annoyed because she knows I am not being entirely truthful or informative. Those two words have become so second-nature and automatic to me that I don't even think about what they mean; what does it mean to be fine? 

When I was first diagnosed with Crohn's Disease, my world changed completely. My perspective on all things, health-related and otherwise, was altered to consider my new limitations. What I did not realize was how hard it would be to maintain honesty in everyday conversation. When asked how a person is doing, the automatic response is "fine" or "I'm doing well, how about you?" We say these things without thinking twice, and sometimes those responses are just untrue.

There is nothing wrong with maintaining social etiquette in a conversation, keeping the personal details to a minimum, but when someone close to you is inquiring about your health and they are aware of your battle, that is a different, much more meaningful ballgame. Or is it?

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I think about my life in a broader sense when answering the question "How are you?" I consider not just my physical and emotional being at that moment in time, but instead over the course of my life. All things considered, I am always fine. I will always respond that way, even though it may not answer my mom's question directly.

In my overly optimistic perspective on life, I believe that things can always be worse. OK, I have an incurable disease, but what about the girl in town that just was diagnosed with cancer? I'm in so much pain that I haven't slept through the night in a week, but who cares because think about that man in the news that lost both of his legs in a tragic accident. I missed out on vacation because I had a 103-degree fever and my legs were so swollen I couldn't walk, but there is a little boy who has to go to bed tonight knowing he will never see through his eyes again.

I'm not saying that this is a competition. It does not matter who is hurting the most or for the longest time. It can be undesirable and frustrating to be told to put things into perspective and focus on the good. Some days it feels good to cry, and that is okay. If you are stoic and unaffected by challenge, that is okay too.

Pain and suffering is relative and personal. If you think what has happened to you is the worst thing in the world, it just may be. But sometimes a tragedy that is so large and unmanageable now becomes more understandable and conquerable in the future. If you take a minute to step outside of your situation, often life can be made a bit easier. Perspective is a useful tool in coping with hardship and setback.

Before surgery, I got my mom to laugh by wearing my surgical cap the wrong way.

Before surgery, I got my mom to laugh by wearing my surgical cap the wrong way.

The saying "perception is reality" can be utilized for both internal and external purposes. What I portray to others is the extent of which I allow them to know, but I also remember that what I believe in myself can have a powerful impact on the way I see my situation. When I think positively, positive things happen. With every struggle comes a success; sometimes that success is hard to discover, but once it is found life feels more meaningful.

I have found that in life, it is easiest to measure my battles not against that of others, but against my other hardships. My truest adversity has been my chronic disease, and I have not encountered anything in life that has surpassed the physical, emotional and social wounds my illness inflicts on me. I consider this a blessing because I have been able to tackle any relatively inferior hurdle with ease. I do not stress about minor mishaps. I do not get upset when things do not go my way. I have been in really low places, and because of that, the high points in my life are even more enjoyable.

I cannot be the judge of whether another person's struggle falls below my personal battle threshold. It is important to keep in mind that even if someone else's hardship seems lesser than your own, that does not make their battle any easier. My struggle is still real, difficult, and significant.

Comparison does not steal my joy or demean my suffering; comparing my greatest struggle against other facets of my life is extremely empowering. I know I can handle anything because I have handled so much in the past. I know that if something isn't killing me, it is making me stronger. Even when I am not perfectly okay, when I am sick, in pain, exhausted and suffering, I am still fine. Life is only hard if I let it be.