It will have been five years, next month, since chronic illness changed my life forever. I was twenty-six years old when it happened. A ambitious young woman at the prime of my life. I was on the edge of making a name for myself in the male dominating industry of digital visual effects.
But, as I was finally learning and training to become the matte artist I dreamed about for years, the unthinkable happened. Electrical pain struck from my neck down to both of my hands: it was as if I touched my hands to an electrical fence. And just like that, in a blink-of-an-eye, my life completely changed.
Now, I wish I could say I handled this in the most positive fashion, but that would be far from the truth.
It’s amazing how when all treatments fail for chronic pain, that even doctors can’t explain, started changing my perspective on life.
When medical science fails you, where else does one turn to for guidance?
Faith! I had a choice to make and it forced me to open up space for God to come into my life. I was always a believer, but I just never opened a lot of room for my Christian faith.
Yet, despite that faith, I still fought internally to get my old self back. Until one day I realized, I didn’t even want my old self back. Now, would it be nice to be cured? You bet! But the lens of perception on life has changed my priorities–forever.
Before having chronic pain, I adjusted my priorities to leave little room for personal relationships.
After a long coming-of-age history of one-sided friendships that I had invested in, I was emotionally spent. I was finished with the drama of dealing with others whom I considered to be “distracting” from my life goals. So in an unhealthy way, I immersed myself in work to avoid the emotional pain of my failed past friendships and relationships with others.
As I look through the lens of my new priorities with the wisdom I have now, I realized that working myself to that kind of extreme motivation wasn’t helping me grow or deal with life’s tough realities. Today, I know myself better, establish boundaries, and practice strong self-preservation.
My illness forced me to do that. However, there are days I wish it didn’t take chronic illness for me to set healthy boundaries in my world. That includes valuing myself and my time, by building healthy relationships, and discarding my investment towards toxic ones.
Also, the new me has opened up to a world of exploration. I am no longer obsessing over one subject. I now go to the library and read a variety of subjects. I have expanded my path of knowledge for constant growth of my spirit, mind, and body.
My new priorities involve staying humble and vulnerable in a self-respecting, powerful way. To show Western society that those attributes are strengths and not weaknesses.
In these priorities lie the key to true happiness and wholeness.
Therefore from this new perception on life, I started taking more risks with developing personal relationships with friends and family. Before I began my journey with chronic pain, I put all my relationships on hold, thinking that once my career was established, I could turn to building a social network. I wish I realized earlier just how short-sighted that attitude was! I was willing to put my entire personal life on hold for the distraction of some silly career. Which ended up being counterproductive, since this only stunted me by delaying my emotional and spiritual growth.
My illness, I am convinced, was my wake up call to reality. I am now tremendously grateful to how chronic illness has forced me to open myself up to the world, in ways I didn’t think were possible. In 2017, my life changed for the better. Two incredible things happened that year: I made friends who also shared my experience in being chronically ill and I also fell in love for the first time.
The great thing about having chronically ill friends is having a built-in support group with others going through the same challenges. I wanted to extend that support to others in similar situations, so I helped build a local Meetup group with a friend, with plans on turning it into an organization.
But life doesn’t always want to be easy, does it? At first, the Meetup group seemed to go smoothly, but after some conflict in building a solid foundation for our organization, I was no longer happy with the direction of how our organization was going. Then, just as I couldn’t expect any more surprises, my boyfriend left me. I thought we were in a happy, committed relationship. We had met each other’s family over the summer and he was the man I saw as my potential long-term, life partner.
It took the experience of being truly heartbroken to change my life.
I took back power within myself and walked away from an organization that I knew was falling apart. Yet the irony is, it took my boyfriend leaving me to acknowledge this painful reality. All of sudden I was seeing these incomplete areas of my life that needed to be filled.
And that is how Social Empowerment was born.
When you lose someone you truly care about, it’s almost like grieving a death. Two dreams died in 2017: the possibility of spending my life with this man I loved and my friend’s organization for people with chronic illness.
But the beautiful thing is, I had nothing more to lose. Since I had already lost my boyfriend, friend, and health, nothing else could hold me back.
Creating my support group, Social Empowerment for Chronic Pain, was my way of spreading unconditional love to society. I needed to place my love in a safe space, towards a cause that really called me to take action. I was able to form my own leadership skills, skills that I previously felt too intimidated by and left to my friend. There will always be heartache and suffering in this world. No one is spared. But slowly, my vision to help the chronic pain community unfolded into a reality.
First, using my sound and video editing knowledge, I was able to create podcasts and spread awareness of social isolation faced by those with chronic illness. Then I created a promotional video to introduce my overall mission of Social Empowerment. Now, I have a Facebook support group, a YouTube Channel, and a local Meetup group to spread awareness and create an inclusive and supportive community for individuals with chronic illness.
My long term hope is that my awareness efforts reach the medical community. Perhaps someday, we can find ways to get medical funding for chronic pain research. My vision is to help those who suffer from illnesses like Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Lyme disease, CFS/ME, and other neuroimmune and autoimmune conditions. In the meantime, my support is also to help those to cope with living with chronic illness.
I am so happy to have come so far in my chronic pain journey.
Living with chronic illness is far from ideal, but with the amount of wisdom, compassion and inner-strength that has come with this painful experience, it has lead me to true wholeness for the first time in my life.
Michelle Persons (Guest Contributor) is the creator of Social Empowerment, a support group/ local Meetup was founded in North Carolina for the ending of social isolation for those with chronic illness. She is a disability activist, book enthusiast, and aspiring dog trainer. You can follow her on the Facebook group, Facebook page, and on Youtube or join her Meetup if you live in the Triangle Area in North Carolina.
You can also email her at SocialEmpowerment4ChronicPain@gmail.com