Venus Williams has been a household name since she started playing tennis decades ago. However in 2004, at one of the high points of her career, she started having symptoms like shortness of breath and fatigue that were affecting her play. She pushed through and continued on the professional circuit, only to feel more worn down and discouraged. Her rankings dropped. She was no longer considered one of the top 100 female tennis players in the world, even though she had in the past been regularly in the top 10. She decided she had to put her health first and took a break from professional tennis – it was at this point that she was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome.

How Do You Deal With Illness?

Like many autoimmune diseases, Sjogren’s is difficult to recognize. Oftentimes we feel that something is not right, that we are unable to do all of the things we used to be able to do, but we can’t figure out why. This can lead to feelings of disappointment, frustration, and confusion. The question is – how do we acknowledge the physical and emotional toll this can take on a person, and how can we take action to alleviate and manage these things?

How Can You Make a Change to Help Yourself, and How Can You Use the Uncertainty You Feel to Your Benefit?

There is a realization that happens that can seem easy, because it makes sense, and that is that we all need to reach out for help sometimes. However fear and anxiety (or a combination of both) can make us reluctant to ask for what we need. We have all been in the position or have known someone in a position wherein they need outside guidance and support, and yet oftentimes we don’t take that leap. Thriving is hard work; it requires maintenance and, most importantly, it requires help from many points to create a holistic approach to what we want to overcome. Beyond just recognizing that we need help, we need to take active steps to get it. So what can you do to take the first step?

Anyone Can Get Sick. Getting the right help is the key

Venus Williams was (and still is) one of the most awarded and heralded athletes in the world, including two U.S. Open wins, five Wimbledon wins, and four Olympic gold medals. Her story of hard work, discipline, talent, and skill from a very young age has become a well-known narrative for people around the world. But the truth is this kind of commitment and success does not make us invincible. Even someone that appears to be the epitome of health can be affected by things that seem out of our control, and we need to recognize that it is not only okay, but crucial, that we work with others to get back to where we want to be.

When Venus was diagnosed in 2011, she put her professional career on hold but she didn’t quit. She worked with doctors and specialists from many different areas to get back to where she wanted to be, even if that meant leaving the sport that she loved. For Williams, the road back to her passion and health included many changes and many different areas of advice and counseling. When we only look in one direction to get better, we miss opportunities and people that can complement and support one another. Seeking out all areas of help are important ways to work towards your goals, and counseling that deals with both emotional and physical help is an important part of the process. This is something that requires guidance and the perspective of someone outside of yourself that knows what you are going through but can also help you make strides in ways that are not possible alone.

Dealing with autoimmune disorders is a convoluted and confusing path. For many people struggling with an autoimmune disease, you know that diagnosis and treatment take a long time, patience, and a willingness to work on many different aspects of your life with many different people. For some, a diagnosis can take years – Venus started showing symptoms in 2004 but was not officially diagnosed until seven years later. When she realized what was happening to her body, she worked with doctors and advisors to help her. In addition to other treatments, Venus worked with advisors to rehash her nutrition to come up with a diet to suit her physical and emotional state and took her time off from tennis to work with advisors who helped her understand and manage her condition. She reached out and has spoken often about the importance of a “support team” – people who understand what you are going through and who will help you navigate the many areas that you need to acknowledge to get the help that you need.

Even Now, ESPECIALLY Now, it is Important Not to Isolate Yourself!

During a time when many of us are struggling with feeling alone or disconnected, this kind of engagement is especially important. If you are feeling this way you need to know that you are not alone, that there are ways to get help, guidance, and support, and this is the time to do it. During the hardest part of her continued recovery, Venus said “Don’t isolate yourself. Don’t give up.” We are living in a new time right now where isolation has taken on an amplified meaning, and it is important to allow yourself to feel vulnerable right now, it is what will motivate you to do something about those fears and concerns that you have.

How Can You Use Your Fear to Help Motivate Positive Change?

There are many ways that we isolate and give up due to fear and anxiety. This doesn’t mean that those feelings are not valid – they are. In fact, feelings of fear and anxiety are normal in a time of crisis, it is a classic flight response when things are uncertain and out of our control. So we all need to spend time to focus on what we can control. How can we get to a place emotionally and physically that allows us to focus on the things that will help us the most? How do we create a support system that will help us to manage and understand the things that are harmful to us externally, but also, and maybe most importantly, internally? Spending the time now to explore these questions will help alleviate the feelings of uncertainty and stress and allow room for comfort and understanding. I wrote previously about using fear as a superpower to motivate you to make change and take active steps. This includes practical tasks that help us find the right ways to work with everyone’s different experience of fear and anxiety (take a look at my post about using fear to create positive action and change). Sometimes just taking that first step is exactly what you need to alleviate the paralyzing effects of fear that we have, turning something that felt like a burden into an opportunity to grow and develop.

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