Last week I wrote about how to make sense of the life lessons learned from illness or injury. And I continue on that theme by writing about what those life lessons actually are.

The life lessons will of course differ from person to person as we are all different, have different illnesses or injuries and life circumstances. For a start I am focusing on the life lessons learned from illness I have experience with. 

To keep this post within a reasonable word count, because this could end up being a long post, I am focusing on 11 life lessons (it was 10 originally). But having a ‘top 11’ is in no way meant to turn this into some sort of cliché and devalue the topic. This is a big topic, and a very important one given the lessons learned often have a lifelong impact.

And when I talk about an illness or injury, it could be your own, a loved one’s, a relative, friend or colleague.

You often get life lessons in one fell swoop rather than over a lifetime

As I said last week, for most people, this is the kind of stuff you learn as you live your life. So when you get to age 50, 60, 70, 80 etc., you have this wisdom and a clearer sense of who you are. You have learned the life lessons gradually over time as you progressed through life’s various stages and milestones. As such, they were easier to digest.

You’ve been given a lot to consider all at once. And you didn’t even ask for it.

Picture of a man sitting at a table with a plate in front of him piled high with life lessons learned from illness or injury. He is saying, 'I didn't order this.' A serious illness can give you so much so quickly, such as life lessons, but you didn't ask for any of that.


What you end up having to consider

What is this illness or injury? – How do you manage it? Where do you get information? Where are the best doctors? Does your GP know anything about your illness/injury? What will recovery be like? Will you go back to the way you were pre-illness/injury? Will you die?

What you believe about yourself – Do you really have as much control over your body and life as you thought? How has the illness or injury impacted how you look after yourself and others (food, diet, exercise, mental health, self-care)? What can you still do? Or no longer do?

What you believe about other people. – The people whom you expected to be there to help you but weren’t. The people who were there for you.

The nature of the relationships you have with people. – How has the illness or injury impacted them? What roles are different? Can you still engage in all aspects of the spouse/partner role? Are your children having to take on more responsibility earlier than planned/desired? Which friends are no longer around?

And more…

What you consider important – How has the illness or injury impacted your attitude and approach to your job or career, to making money, your hobbies, exercise, creative pursuits, etc.?

How will you survive? – Can you still work? What if you are the breadwinner?

Your belief in God or another a higher being or your spirituality. – Are you being sent these trials to see how you cope? Why you? Why not you?

And still more

This is all big stuff. Existentialist type questions. It is no wonder it can feel like the metaphorical ground you have walked on your whole life feels like it is crumbling away.

A picture of a woman walking on ground that is cracking and developing holes. She is thinking, "The ground I am walking on isn[t firm anymore!" There are questions surrounding her like, "How do I manage it all? Who am I now? Can I work? My relationships are changing. Why me? Why not me?" When you are dealing with life lessons learned from illness, the metaphorical ground you are walking on may no longer feel firm.
When dealing with the life lessons learned from illness, the ground you are walking on may no longer feel firm.

When I reflected on all that and more, this is what I came up with. As you read this, note which life lessons resonate with you or not, and which ones are relevant for you but not here.

My top 10 11 life lessons learned from illness

1. You are responsible for your maintaining physical and mental health


When I apply this to myself, I figure it is my body I live in it every day, so it is up to me to maintain my physical and mental health. No one is going to do this for me. Not the doctors, my family or friends. Of course, they influence it. They may help me. But it is up to me to take primary responsibility for managing my physical and mental health.

Regarding managing the impact of my health issues, the doctors and other professionals can give me advice and support based on their expertise. It is up to me to do my research on my health issues, track my symptoms, find doctors and healthcare professionals whom I trust, prepare for appointments, ask my questions, implement advice, take my medication, do my physiotherapy, ask for help when I need it, etc.

It’s my body. My body helps me to live the life I want. So it’s my responsibility.

2. Just be yourself

As Joyce Williams (@JoyceWilliams_ on Twitter) wrote for a website, the ‘freedom to be you’ and not be ‘weighed down by others’ expectations of you anymore. (Joyce Williams writes about life at 80+ and I recommend you follow her blog. She’s very good.)

After your own or a loved one’s serious illness or injury, you’ve looked at your mortality. You know how precious life is. And you got through that experience. So the worry of what others think seems trivial in comparison. If they don’t care for what you do, wear, say, etc., screw it.

Life is short. Live it. Be yourself.

Picture of the quote, "Self-love is not selfish. You cannot truly love another until you know how to love yourself." Source is unknown. This is important life lesson from illness. Self-love helps you to just be yourself.

3. Do what is meaningful to you and gives you joy

See above. Life is short. Live it.

4. Do what you really want to do but are scared to

Again, life is short. Go out and live it.

I don’t want to be on my death bed regretting things I did not do but wanted to. So I ask myself this question, ‘Is not doing this activity something I would regret on my deathbed?’

Also, I know how my body has changed due to just one episode of Transverse Myelitis. The doctors said it was most likely a one-off attack but I know people they have said that to who have had another. So if I had another episode of TM and lost more functionality, I’d be upset with myself for not taking chances I am capable of doing now. This has been one of the top life lessons learned from illness for me.

5. When trying something new, not doing it well is not failure. It takes practice for something to become a habit. And we will get it wrong. There’s learning in that.

Remember, we weren’t born knowing how to walk. We started crawling and fell flat on our faces. We started walking and fell down a lot. And people clapped for us! Happily clapped for us! They clapped for the fact that we were having a go, that we were striving towards something. We intuitively adjusted and eventually we learned to walk. Then run, then skip and hop.

6. Better developed perspective

Again, as Joyce Williams wrote, you have ‘a stronger sense of perspective’ due to your life experiences. Provided of course you have reflected on what you’ve learned from them and how they have shaped you as a person.

You have a much greater sense of what is important to you, what isn’t, when to worry and get upset and when to let things go.

7. Self-compassion isn’t being indulgent. It’s necessary. Every day.

This is a life skill. When you are dealing with the impact of a health trauma, your compassion for yourself will carry you through the difficulties. It is a way of telling yourself that you are worth it, that you are deserving of compassion and kindness, that it is ok to slow down and not produce or achieve as much because your body has changed. It’s ok to adjust your expectations of yourself and of others.

Self-compassion enhances your ability to adapt and be flexible which is often necessary to have a quality of life when living with the impact of a serious illness, chronic illness or injury.

Self-compassion enhances your ability to adapt and be flexible which is often necessary to have a quality of life when living with the impact of a #seriousillness #chronicillness or #seriousinjury Click To Tweet

8. Asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness

It’s you recognising what you are good at and what you aren’t as good at and/or don’t know how to do. By getting help, you can get to where you want to be that little bit faster.

We are all inter-dependent anyway. We all need each other.

9. Graciously accepting compliments and positive feedback is not self-indulgent. Nor is letting yourself be happy with them. It’s necessary.

It feeds your self-worth. So watch for when you discount yourself and your abilities when someone gives you a compliment or positive feedback. That is you playing small and that doesn’t help you or anyone around you.

Bathe in the compliments and positive feedback you receive. Spend time with them and let them infuse your heart and soul.

Graciously accepting compliments and positive feedback is not self-indulgent. Nor is letting yourself be happy with them. It’s necessary. It helps to restore your self-esteem and sense of self-worth after a #health #trauma Click To Tweet

10. You are stronger than you think you are

You may not have had a choice in that, you had to be strong. But you did it. You got through that health trauma and possibly other traumas in your life.

You are dealing well enough with learning to live in a changed body or helping a loved one learn to live in their changed body. You probably returned to work or found new work. You may have redefined what ‘work’ means for you. You may have found an emotional balance again or are working towards that.

Whatever you have done, you got this far.

I often ask myself and others the question, ‘What enabled you to get this far?’

It’s a valuable reminder of your strengths and skills, of your resilience, of the people who matter most to you.

A picture of an original quote by Return to Wellness: "You've made it this far. What is it about you that has enabled you to do that? This is an important question to consider when thinking about the life lessons learned from illness or injury.

11. Be proud of the life lessons learned from illness or injury and how far you’ve come

You have every right to be proud of yourself for getting back to work after a serious illness or injury.

You have every right to be proud of yourself for reinventing yourself after your organ transplant.

You have every right to be proud of yourself for finding an emotional balance again after the health trauma you experienced.

You have every right to be proud of yourself for getting through gruelling cancer treatment and beyond.

You have every right to be proud of being the best carer you could for someone until the day they died.

You have every right for being proud of being a good enough parent to a child with a disability.

You get the idea.

It’s ok to be proud of yourself in whichever way suits you. Please don’t let people take that away from you.

But why do you have this right to be proud of yourself? Isn’t that kind of looked down upon in some cultures? (Like in the UK.)

When you are proud of yourself, it’s a recognition of your skills, strengths and passions. It’s a way of affirming yourself for what you got through. That feeds your self-worth. And you need your self-worth to get you through the rest of your life.

A picture of a woman hugging her heart and in her heart is written 'self-worth'. She is thinking, "That was an awful ordeal. Really tough. And I made it this far. I learned so much. Well done to me!" The caption reads: It's important to appreciation what it is about you that has enabled you to deal with your health issue. Self-appreciation feeds your self-worth. The life lessons learned from illness or injury contribute to this.

What’s it like for you?

What life lessons learned from illness or injury would be on your list? How do they differ from above? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or alternatively email them to me (contact form in sidebar).  

If you are living with a serious health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to figure out what you are learning from a serious health issue and how to apply that in your life, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2019

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