Several years ago I got sick. I trained as a pilot and an air traffic controller, and was happily progressing in my career until one day I was unable to do my job anymore. I was in constant pain and was constantly fatigued as a result, and the medication used to manage my symptoms rendered me unable to hold the medical certification required to work as a controller. Since that time, it has been a challenge relearning how to live.

I have an autoimmune disease that causes chronic joint pain and fatigue. Like many people who have similar conditions, I have spent a lot of time in the last several years seeing specialists and bouncing back and forth between diagnoses and treatments. I have a great team of doctors working with me, and for the time being it appears we are on the right path.

Chronic illness presents many obstacles, not the least of which is a sense of social isolation. People dealing with illness are often surrounded by friends and family who care about them, but who cannot relate to what they are going through. In this way the internet has been a boon, putting strangers across the country (and world) in contact who might otherwise have never found the support they craved.

One of the opportunities I found in my situation was learning to be more compassionate toward myself and others. Joy Selak talks in her book, “You Don’t LOOK Sick,” about how being ill made her a better person. It was not until I had to deal with a condition nearly invisible to others that I truly began to understand that not all may not be as it seems. People who look normal may be putting a smile on their face to keep up their own optimism – not because all is well.

I am grateful to those connections I found with complete strangers who have shared their stories in print and online. Their anonymous empathy has made me feel less alone, and helped me to find comfort and joy in my situation. I would like to pass on that sharing of strength if I can.