Redefining Success While Living with a Chronic Illness

Redefining Success While Living with a Chronic Illness

I never have an answer to the questions, “Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?” or “What are your future goals?”

Mitochondrial myopathy is a rare and little understood disease, meaning I don’t know what lies ahead with my health. This can make it nearly impossible to plan for the future and set big goals.

I tend to be a perfectionist. If I create or do something that’s not up to my standards, I feel like a failure, causing myself undue stress. The pressure to succeed is anxiety-inducing and can be detrimental to my health.

The word failure rang in my ears recently when I notified my chief editor that I needed to pare back on my column frequency due to increased duties as a Muscular Dystrophy News Forums moderator. Although I knew my boss would understand, I still beat myself up about it. 

I am lucky to work for a company with many chronically ill employees and understanding and lenient bosses. But for many others with chronic illness, cultivating a life of success is just a dream. Doctors’ appointments and daily health struggles consume the time that otherwise would be spent at work or school.

Those with jobs are often forced to work themselves into a coma or prioritize their health over their work, education, and social life. Yet many fear being fired if they take too much time off work.

This mindset is detrimental, even to able-bodied people. No one should ever feel shame or reluctance to care for their health. So how do we change this perspective? By finding success in the small things we achieve.

I used to feel unsuccessful if I didn’t write three satisfactory columns per month. This made me less motivated to write. I was reminded of that saying often attributed to Winston Churchill: “Perfect is the enemy of progress.”

Eventually, I realized I was pressuring myself to complete unrealistic goals. The goals were inhibiting my success, not improving it. Instead of creating big goals I might not complete, I decided that making smaller, more achievable goals would be a healthier alternative. Now, I try to focus on writing at least one column per month that I’m proud of and congratulate myself when I complete this goal. Even on days when all I can do is rest and care for myself, there is still success to be found in accepting my health and listening to my body.

My chronic illness may prevent me from achieving and experiencing the standard ideals of success, but by prioritizing my health and by accomplishing small goals, I can create a successful life of my own.


Note: Muscular Dystrophy News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.

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