Is it possible to have a life purpose when living with chronic illness or a serious injury? Or being a carer? You may think it’s no longer possible. A pipe dream. And that can feel devastating. Lonely too. Especially when you look at people around you getting on with their lives like you used to.

I think it is possible to have a life purpose when living with chronic illness, injury or as a carer. Yes, I’m an optimist. But also a realist. And being a realist means we have to strip things back and do a rethink. Which in turn means challenging our assumptions around illness/injury/caring and having a life purpose. Plus acknowledging the really hard bits and getting support when we need it.

So let’s get started.

A woman has fatigue, looks very tired and is laying on a sofa. She is thinking to herself, "How the hell can I have any purpose in life with this illness?!" The caption reads: How do you have a life purpose when living with chronic illness, injury or caring responsibilities? Read the blog this picture appears in to find out.

When you think of having a life purpose, what do you think of?

Is it doing what others around you are doing? Ticking off life’s typical milestones: building your career, buying a property, having kids, getting married, having a retirement doing what you enjoy, grandchildren, etc.?

Is it about doing a meaningful job whether paid or unpaid?

Or achieving something you’re interested in?

Feeling happy in who you are as a person?

The people you surround yourself with?

Activities that you enjoy doing?

Something else?

When you think of having a life purpose when living with chronic illness, what do you think of? #chronicillness #lifepurpose Click To Tweet

What a life purpose really is

A life purpose is about you and your life. It provides direction for living your life, guidelines even. It gives shape and meaning to your life and makes it a worthwhile one to live.

Your life purpose can be about:

  • Job/ career
  • Hobbies and personal interests
  • The contribution you are making to the world in whatever form that takes – blogging, advocating for a cause via social media channels, writing articles when you can, volunteering, your job/career, etc..
  • Achieving goals you find meaningful
  • Your values – What you stand for and consider important
  • Your strengths and passions
  • What motivates you to get up in the morning
  • Things you enjoy
  • What you find energising
  • Key relationships
  • The people you surround yourself with
  • Your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews (or choosing not to have children)
  • How you treat others
  • Helping others
  • What you find meaningful and worthwhile
  • Who you are as a person – the good and not-so-good
  • A religious/spiritual faith
  • The culture you were raised in (or adopted) and its traditions

A variety of things can make up your life purpose. And some of the items on this list may overlap for you.

How are you defining a life purpose when living with chronic illness?

Before you started to read this blog, how did you define your life purpose? Was it based on one of the items listed above, a few of them or a lot?

Notice any trends in how you thought about your life purpose. For example, was it based on what you see others doing? Or things you once did but can no longer do?

Or have you been thinking that having a life purpose when living with chronic illness is no longer possible? That a life purpose is only possible if you have no health issues?

The purpose of these questions is to highlight any assumptions you may be holding about what constitutes a life purpose and the possibilities of having a life purpose when living with chronic illness.

If you’ve noticed any assumptions you’re holding, ask yourself if they are helpful to you now or is it time to let them go. And ask yourself what do you want for yourself?

It can feel like chronic illness takes your life purpose away from you

You may not be able to do all that you did before its onset – your job, hobbies, or being able to spontaneously move about and do things as you wish. Things like what you enjoy and find energising. Even you as a person may also have changed.

The changes that a chronic illness introduces to your life are a change in boundaries. And the boundaries can feel restrictive because they are so different.

The changes that a #chronicillness introduces to your life are a change in boundaries. And the boundaries can feel restrictive because they are so different. #lifepurpose #wellness Click To Tweet

It’s a case of redesigning your life purpose

You will still have some from that list above and the ability to rebuild others.

This isn’t always a straightforward or easy task. It can take time. It may require you to find new passions for example, develop new strengths and inner qualities even.

Here are 3 recommendations for a life purpose when living with chronic illness

1. Make sure you don’t put all your eggs in one basket

This means to have your life purpose be dependent on one thing.

This applies to you even if you don’t have a chronic illness.

Because if your one thing doesn’t work out, like having a particular job/career, then it’s so much easier to feel dejected, low, a sense of failing, etc.

Make sure your life purpose is based on a number of things.

2. A life purpose doesn’t have to be big and grand

You don’t have to be doing a job that is changing the world, requires you to lead lots of people, or is highly paid. Or be a blogger or influencer with loads of followers.

You event don’t have to be ticking off all the life milestones your friends and family may be doing.

Your life purpose can be about what is right for you and the size that is right for you.

A life purpose doesn’t have to be big or grand. Your life purpose can be the size that is right for you. #chronicillness #lifepurpose Click To Tweet

Like keeping the people important to you close and maintaining those relationships. A hobby you can do when you’re well enough. Getting out in nature when you can. Savouring small moments that make you smile. Discovering the depth of empathy you have and celebrating that.

3. Be mindful of how you look at and think about your life when living with chronic illness

Because that is how you’re defining your life.

If you are consistently defining your life as one that isn’t what it was or should be, it is a life focused on wanting the past but knowing one can’t have it, and upset that the future one expected won’t be. It is also focused on loss and deficit. It can be so emotionally draining.

If you are doing this, please show lots of compassion to yourself. Because this can be a symptom of grief for what you no longer have. Having various forms of support whilst you’re in this phase can help you deal with the grief, move through and beyond it.

Also, if you assume that having a life purpose when living with chronic illness isn’t possible, you can end up unknowingly living to a societal assumption that being chronically ill means that you cannot have a life worth living. That the two are mutually exclusive.

An original quote by Return to Wellness® reads: If you assume that having a purpose in life when living with chronic illness isn't possible, you can end up unknowingly living to a societal assumption that being chronically ill means that you cannot have a life worth living. The two aren't mutually exclusive." This is important to consider when you want to have a life purpose when living with chronic illness, injury or caring responsibilities.

You are still the architect of your life purpose when living with chronic illness

At times it may not feel like it. There are some things in our life, particularly regarding our health, we can’t always directly and fully control. But you are still your own architect.

Even if you don’t feel ready just yet to purposefully start redesigning your life purpose, you can gently ask yourself once in a while, ‘When I am ready, what kind of life and life purpose do I want whilst living with this chronic illness?’

And if you are ready to start redesigning your life purpose, what kind of life do you want? What do you want your life to stand for? And what action can you take to start making it happen?

Your life purpose will evolve

As you live, have new experiences, grow and change, your life purpose will change. That’s ok. And natural.

And it’s ok not to define a life purpose when living with chronic illness

Maybe you like to let things unfold and go with the flow. That’s cool too.

It’s your life. So you determine it.

Picture of an original quote by Return To Wellness saying: You are the CEO of you. So you're in charge. This is very much the case when you want to manage your health issue successfully including renewing your life purpose when living with chronic illness

What’s it like for you?

What do you think about having a life purpose when living with chronic illness? Is it possible? Is it worth it? And do you have one? 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 challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support on any of the issues discussed here,

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2020

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