I have done and continue to do dope things, against the odds, despite the limits of my chronic illness.

-Jamila Mitchell

by Jamila Mitchell

“God, I finally vacuumed.”

If you ever experienced an almost orgasmic sigh of relief after doing something seemingly small but necessary, then you are like me. The common necessities to life, like vacuuming, going to the grocery store, or even picking up the phone to text someone, are incredible accomplishments for the millions of people across the globe living with a chronic illness—psychological, viral, physical, or all of the above. I understand this intimately because I have been living with a chronic illness my entire life.

Bipolar disorder has been on my shoulders since grade school, but I wasn’t correctly diagnosed until my first psychiatric hospitalization in college. Since the age of 18, managing tedious chores continue to become more overwhelming as the effects of bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety unfortunately age with time. At times, when my anxiety is high, simple self-care like a nap or binge-watching anime take precedence over chores. I have daily chest pains from panic attacks, depression makes me sleep a lot, and random manic states often lead me to disassociate. Fatigue and disruptive mixed-states are a full-time job, on top of my other jobs. However, I am not defined by my illness(es). None of us are.

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At 32, I’ve gained the fortitude to maintain a stable living while accomplishing really big things. I founded a non-profit residential care company, worked with different start-ups, and traveled the country working 85-hour weeks running political campaigns. I’ve recently finished a 250 page manuscript while maintaining a full time job with a small pet care business with steady clientele.

I have done and continue to do dope things, against the odds, despite the limits of my mental illness. And I am not alone. Every person with a chronic illness is doing dope things right under the nose of a society that measures productivity and success by capitalistic interests.

We are all raised to believe that wealth and how fast we can acquire it is a large part of what defines one’s worth. In a capitalist society, productivity is also a large part of that, but having a chronic illness or disability can often get in the way of living a “productive” life.

According to a study by the RAND Research and Public Policy firm, within a given year, 59% of persons in the United States live with at least one chronic ailment. Yet, this country willingly elected a President who openly mocked a journalist with a physical disability. Only a few public officials stand against the stigma of various chronic illnesses and we have a government that is largely unconcerned with improving access to healthcare.

People with chronic illnesses and disabilities have real-life inevitable limitations. We are still capable individuals, but the world still needs to recognize that sometimes just waking up in the morning is an act of survival, against the odds. Everything we do for ourselves and others takes a special kind of strength that able-bodied and neurotypical people simply do not have to exercise. I have no word for it, but I know it’s a strong invisible force emanating from us. 

In January of 2017, I was stricken with a fatal form of pneumonia that went misdiagnosed until June. As the bacterial pneumonia spread unbeknownst to me, I was training to complete a 5K marathon to help  fight the negative self-image and depression had been braving. That marathon took place on May 5th and two weeks later, I was admitted into ER via the ambulance.

At this time, my body was only receiving 29-32% of oxygen and my pain levels were unimaginable. I had lost 50 pounds since falling ill and I was so dehydrated my skin was inelastic. While on life support, every chance I was able to use the remote control, drop or raise the upper half of my body, or say something through a breathing apparatus, I felt divination in those accomplishments.

So, believe that I am feeling even more accomplished now that I finished the first draft of my book a year later, having also gone through three hospitalizations, daily panic attacks, and chronic mixed-state psychoses every week. My room may look like a hurricane hit it, my budget may be out-of-hand, my truck may need repairs, and certain student bills may need to be paid, but I know it’s okay that my productivity doesn’t look how it’s “supposed” to.

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If you are like me, living with a chronic illness makes modest necessities seem overwhelming or even impossible. Do not feel ashamed, as your challenges also creates a brilliance in you. Chronic illness is nothing simple, and even this article doesn’t touch on every facet of pain we all share, but I don’t really want to. In this moment, I want us to celebrate who we are and how we express ourselves.

In this moment, promise yourself to celebrate the experiences you create, the things you take care of, and help you’ve successfully requested. There are many reasons to love ourselves and many reasons to smile. Cheers to the courage, the wisdom, the virtues, and the strength you have achieved in making it through today.

Jamila Mitchell is a writer that comes from across the disciplines of business management, non-profit development, and community organizing. Educated in economics and  business management at the Milwaukee School of Engineering Rader School of Business, Jamila has used her knowledge assets on neoclassical economics as an advocate and grant writer for various causes such as mental health treatment. She has worked on numerous political  campaigns including the Fight For $15 pro-union national campaign, voter rights, and various President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.