5 Ways My Chronic Illnesses Have Made Me Be a Better Person

When you're living with chronic illness, it's easy to focus on the drawbacks. Even after I went gluten free, celiac disease almost killed me - and I still battle some stomach issues. Similarly, although going gluten free greatly reduced my fibromyalgia pain, I still have my fair share of fibromyalgia flare ups and bad days.

I always try to focus on the positives, though - and this post is no exception! Today, I'm sharing five reasons why being diagnosed with two chronic illnesses (before the age of 18!) has made me a better person...and how you might be able to say the same thing.

5 Ways My Chronic Illnesses Have Made Me Be a Better Person

1. I know the difference that a few kind words or the support from a stranger can make. 

Can one person really make a difference? That's a common enough question, and the answer isn't always obvious. However, my experience with celiac disease and fibromyalgia implies a big Y-E-S.

When I was hospitalized due to celiac complications, Gluten Dude shared my story and hundreds of people from all over the world sent me healing thoughts and kind words. Sure, those words didn't "heal" me; however, they did keep me from feeling so alone in my hospital bed. And when I'm having a fibromyalgia flare-up or a "fluffy" (aka super bloated for no reason) day, a silly meme from my best friend or a short phone call with my mom never fails to make me feel a little bit better. 

5 Ways My Chronic Illnesses Have Made Me Be a Better Person

Kind words can't solve everything, but you never know how much of a difference they can make. So the next time you see someone struggling - whether due to chronic disease or everyday challenges - why not send some positive vibes and encouragement their way? 

2. I've felt wrongly judged by my appearance - and I try to not do the same. 

One of the biggest challenges of having an invisible illness is that you look "normal," but your body doesn't always behave that way. If you have celiac disease, this may mean that people assume you're a gluten free fad dieter ditching bread out of misinformed vanity when you ask for a gluten free menu. Or, if you have fibromyalgia, you might get disapproving looks when you use a handicapped parking spot but look "just fine."

The truth? Being wrongly stereotyped based on your appearance, well, hurts - and I try to use my own painful experiences as motivation to not do the same to others. 

5 Ways My Chronic Illnesses Have Made Me Be a Better Person

Of course, it would be a lie to say that I never judge anyone by their appearance. Stereotypes - harmful, or otherwise - are one way that we organize and make sense of the world around us. We see homeless people and think, "They're so lazy! Why can't they just get a job?" instead of considering the mental and invisible illnesses that they could be facing. Or, we spot gorgeous men or women and assume that their life is perfect...even though their medical history may be anything but. However, being aware of your own assumptions and stereotypical thinking is a step in the right direction.

After all, the more aware you are of your own assumptions, the more intentionally you can examine how accurate these assumptions really are. At least in my experience, the world needs less judgment and more empathy - and you can help lead the change. 

3. I've learned that, sometimes, not listening to your body isn't an option.

You've probably heard the phrase, "No pain, no gain" - and, at first glance, there's nothing wrong with that mantra. After all, I'm all about striving for improvement. However, if my fibromyalgia and celiac disease diagnoses have taught me anything, it's the importance of listening to the messages your body is sending. 

For instance, I remember that a month before my celiac diagnosis, I suddenly started craving my mom's chicken and rice bake. "It's so weird," I remember telling her. "But I feel better after eating that than most other things." Little did I know that the bake was lower in gluten than most of the other foods my family ate...and that my body was hinting at my need for a gluten free diet a few weeks before I received the life-changing phone call from my doctor.

5 Ways My Chronic Illnesses Have Made Me Be a Better Person

Similarly, living with fibromyalgia means paying close attention to my daily pain levels. If my muscles are especially tense, I've learned that a yoga session is more helpful than weight lifting. And, after a few months of experimenting, I've realized that eating corn in large doses often means extra painful joints the next day. 

Sure, sometimes you need to reject your body's wishes to just lay on the couch all day and listen to your brain and do a workout or go to class instead. Other times, though, listening to your body can literally transform - or even save - your life. 

4. I've discovered the importance of advocating for myself...and I try to teach others the same skill. 

When you think about living with chronic illness, the term "limiting" might come to mind. Surprisingly enough, though, chronic diseases can also be empowering...and I have my chronic illnesses to thank for my loud and proud advocacy. 

Fibromyalgia has shown me that doctors don't always know everything - and that you might need to fight for the diagnosis and treatment you need. Meanwhile, celiac disease has helped me realize that I'm not "bothersome" or "annoying" for giving extensive explanations and instructions to restaurant staff. It is not my fault that gluten can literally kill me, and it is my right as a customer to receive safe, delicious food. If a restaurant cannot accommodate me, that's fine; tell me, and I'll go somewhere else. However, I refuse to endanger myself to be an "easier" customer or lunch date.

5 Ways My Chronic Illnesses Have Made Me Be a Better Person

Yes, I still have moments of self-consciousness when I'm the only person eating who needs a "special" meal. But I also know that I'm special for many more reasons than my chronic illnesses - just like everyone else!

5.  I've accepted that I don't have to be perfectly "healthy" to be capable of success and worthy of love.

On a similar note, my chronic illnesses have also shown me that I'll probably never be "typical" - but that I'm no less awesome because of it. 

I was diagnosed with celiac disease a few weeks before my first date. Of course, I promptly glutened myself on movie theatre popcorn and felt less lovesick and more, well, gluten sick in the following days. Since then, though, I've had my share of successful dates. I've learned that needing a guy to brush his teeth before kissing isn't a mood killer and that bringing my own food to a "meet-the-parents" brunch is less of a big deal than I worried.

5 Ways My Chronic Illnesses Have Made Me Be a Better Person

I've also seen that, with the right determination and planning, my chronic illnesses can't stop me from chasing my dreams. Despite the hospitalization, the food prep and the bumps along the way, I graduated college with a 4.0 GPA. Despite my unique "employee" needs, I worked my first full time job with a kick-ass feminist magazine called Entity. And, now, I'm teaching my first college course and attending grad school to receive an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. 

I've always grown up hearing the phrase, "Everything happens for a reason." And while that can be harder to believe with certain events than others, I 100% believe that it applies to my journey with chronic illness. Why? Sure, fibromyalgia and celiac disease come with plenty of challenges, and I complain of those more on some days than others. However, they have also helped shape me into the empathetic, determined, strong and confident woman I am today...and for that, I am grateful.

5 Ways My Chronic Illnesses Have Made Me Be a Better Person

And I hope that when you reflect on your own life with chronic illness, you can find a few positive points that make you say the same thing.

No questions today - just tell me your thoughts!


  1. Love this! So inspiring :) One thing I always try to do is treat others how I would like to be treated <3

  2. So happy to see the positivity through stuggles.

  3. This is a beautifully positive post, Casey. And so true!


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