When people, including myself, usually talk about chronic illness side effects, we don’t typically speak of them as being positive things. But, today I’m going to change that. While most of the side effects I get from Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are very unpleasant, I’ve learned that there are a few that I’m grateful for.
1. Being Direct
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always been a bit of a people pleaser. By a bit, I mean it was one of my defining characteristics. I wouldn’t even tell waiters what I wanted to order from the menu, I had to ask for it so I wouldn’t seem too aggressive. And, I probably say “sorry” more times in a day that most do in a year.
Now, my people pleaser attitude was technically a side effect, as well. It came from my PTSD and history of narcissistic abuse. It came from years of conditioning to believe that anything I want or need is a burden to whoever I’m asking it of. I was led to believe that even my very existence was a burden that I should apologize for frequently, and I did. It also came from learning that for there to be peace in the home (no matter how tenuous or artificial that peace is) I have to just agree to what others want, no matter how much it might hurt me. So, this is kind of one side effect being traded out for another.
Since becoming disabled from my conditions, my people pleasing habits have begun to shrink daily. Not that I’m suddenly becoming a people un-pleaser (yeah, you read that right), but I have become much better at stating exactly what I want/need from people. This not only saves time, it also saves me a whole lotta energy/spoons. I just don’t have energy to waste on hinting around what I want, hoping that someone will understand. I also don’t have the energy to pretend to be happy with something I’m unhappy with, or pretend that something rude or offensive isn’t rude or offensive, or to hold in my frustrations as they come up.
2. Saying ‘No’
I’ve mostly been a ‘yes’ person. You know, someone who tries to say yes to challenges they meet so that they won’t be ruled by fear. My ‘yes’ personality was equal parts feeling like I wanted to do something, feeling like I had to do it to prove a point, and feeling like I couldn’t say ‘no’ if someone asked me to do something. Saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean I’ve stopped challenging myself or helping others out, it means that I finally found the power within myself to say ‘yes’ only to the things I really truly am able, or want, to do.
If you’ve read pretty much any of my other posts, then you know that having these new limitations is most often difficult for me. I hate not being able to dance with my daughter, or perform onstage, or do my old job. But, there’s a positive side to not being able to do everything, as well. I’ve learned what truly are the most important things in my life, because those are the things I say ‘yes’ to every chance I get. And, saying ‘no’ is what allows me to do that.
3. Standing Up For Myself
As a people pleaser, people often walked all over me. I mean, I basically invited them to do it. I had many one sided relationships, where I did all the giving and they did all the taking. I changed myself to try to win over approval of others, because I so desperately wanted to feel like I belonged. And, because I felt that if I could get people to approve of me, that would mean I was forgiven for my burden of an existence.
But I don’t have the patience to deal with that anymore. I’ve stopped trying to talk people into liking me, or caring about me, because either they will or they won’t. I don’t want to waste spoons that should be spent on the people who actually do care on trying to convince someone that they should care.
I’ve learned to stand up for myself when someone is patronizing or rude to me, because of assumptions they make based on my appearance. I’ve learned to stand up to bullies who try to convince me that my life has less value than theirs. I’ve learned to stand up to people who ask more of me than I am able to give, and get angry when I can’t do what they want. And I’ve learned to stand up to medical professionals who dismiss me as ‘too complex a case’ for them to handle or when they refuse to take my complaints seriously.
Yes, it takes energy and spoons to stand up for myself, but it takes a whole bunch more to not do it.
4. Questioning Myself
This one came directly from my history of abuse, although I didn’t realize it was a unique characteristic until recently. I’m sure a lot of people question themselves occasionally, but no one does self-doubt the way a survivor of abuse does self-doubt. We don’t just question fact based statements or big picture opinions, we question every single thought we have and, typically, just jump to the assumption that we’re wrong.
I know, this doesn’t sound like a good thing at all. Before I recognized what I was doing and that most people don’t do it, at least not to the extent I did, it left me shrouded in constant self-doubt and extreme self-criticism. And, while I’m still working to get past the worst parts of this habit, I’ve also started to realize that sometimes it works in my favor. Before I assert an opinion or belief, I tend to look at it from every possible angle, at least every angle I can think of or discover through research and, when met with an opposing opinion, I usually take care to fully examine their side. My immediate assumption is that I’m wrong and I tend to go into my research thinking “oh crap, what did I miss,” so if I actually assert an opinion, you can rest well knowing that it’s not a in the heat of the moment decision. It’s something I’ve pained over.
It seems that not enough people question their beliefs or are prepared to admit that their beliefs could be wrong. Lot’s of people assert that it’s something everyone should do, but then continue to only look at things from one direction. I always chuckle when people say, “well, unlike you, I like to look at things from both sides” because a) typically that person has only given one side of the argument without even acknowledging the other side, and b) they have no idea how much time I’ve spent looking at it from every single side of the argument.
That doesn’t mean I’m never wrong, not by a stretch. Just that I’ve learned to not rely on my gut as the only indicator of if something is correct or not, and that I’m pretty handy with an “I’m sorry,” if I’m proven wrong.
Do you have a positive side effect of your chronic illnesses that you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments! I love to hear from you.