10 Gifts of Understanding I Found Through Years of Supporting Family Members with Chronic Conditions that Affect the Brain.

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Ten Gifts of understanding Chronic Illness that my family gave me.


Every conscious moment in my life has been shaped by some form of chronic condition or illness. Born prematurely in 1969, weighing 1 lb. 13 oz., the odds were stacked against me. I have had my own issues that probably would have had me classified as a special education student today. But I have found my personality, character, and life were so much more defined by those around me. This is especially true for those dealing with chronic illnesses that affect brain function. Today’s blog is a tribute to those who have already blessed my life, and hopefully a ray of hope for those that Ascent Cognitive Education Center is dedicated to serving. 


  • I have almost zero understanding of the concept “I don’t feel like it!”

I am so grateful that my mom who had Multiple Sclerosis for 40 years always pushed through to accomplish anything that needed to be done, no matter how she felt physically or emotionally. Her tenacity taught me to ignore those momentary thoughts, opinions, or feelings that might prevent me from pursuing and achieving my dreams. Her fortitude in the face of an increasingly debilitating condition taught me to always choose to define myself, instead of allowing circumstances to define me.

  • Realizing problems at work are never the end of the world. 

Since work is the focus of so many hours of our day, often we can become consumed by issues with clients, co-workers, technology, etc. Coming home every day to the realities of living with a chronic condition allows me to put things in a better perspective. I am grateful for both the blessings I find at home with my family, as well as the daily blessings of my job.

  • As long you get up in the morning, you are still in the game. And because you got up you are winning.

I can’t tell you how many times with the number of things that were going on in my life and family, that all I wanted to do was to stay in my cozy, peaceful bed every morning! It was so tempting to just stay home, call in sick and not move all day. But I quickly realized if I didn’t get out of bed, I was allowing the circumstances to control how my life was going to go. As a result, I decided that every morning I would choose to get out of bed no matter what was going on. If I at least did that, I was still in the game. If I at least got out of bed, I could have some influence on the outcome of my day, or at least choose to find the silver lining.

  • That relationships are truly what make you rich. 

There is a richness to life when you spend it getting to know others. The laughter, the love, the challenges, the triumphs. The memories are priceless. For me, I am always the most fulfilled when I am enjoying being with the people around me. Don’t get me wrong, I know money is necessary to live and function, but when you focus on the people, and the moment, over the money, in general, you find more joy in life.

  • To do our best to spend more time honoring those we have lost instead of grieving them.

Grief is such a hard emotion because it is intense pain, but at the same time feels like it still gives us a connection to the one that was lost. We are often reluctant to let go of our grief. We are afraid that somehow if we let go of it, the loved one is really gone – or the hole left by letting it go is worse than the grief itself. We can be reluctant to let it go because we feel guilty that we are somehow betraying the person. However, I have found through my own experiences that if we choose ways to honor the person through giving to their favorite cause, finishing an accomplishment that they supported us in, or simply choosing to find happiness again because they would want us to, the happiness and joy bring that person back in a positive way which is much stronger than the sadness anyway!

  • It is important to remember to do 3 things for myself everyday for my health and well-being. 

Living with Chronic Conditions, especially if you are in the caregiver role can become all consuming.  One of the best ways that I have found to reduce this is literally asking myself, ” What are 3 things you are going to do for yourself today?”  It keeps me from leaving my needs unmet for months and months on end.  It could be as simple and small as make sure you start the dishwasher, to as indulgent as a spa day.  

  • There is always a silver lining if you choose to find it.

In every storm, I look for at least one silver lining now.  The silver lining always allows me to make it through the situation in a better state of mind than I would have been otherwise.

  • Always keep an eye on the positives and the future

As a teacher for over 20 years, I endured the loss of more students than I would have ever dreamed in my worst nightmares when I began my career. We lost them in every manner possible from heart attacks to overdoses, suicide to murder, while they attend the school I was at and sometimes a few years after.  I know it is very difficult to loose those you work with in every career, but there are very few other careers in which you see the person you service everyday of the week for 36 weeks a year.  Combine that with the fact that there is the not only the loss of life, but also the loss of the promise that youth held is especially poignant.  After experience a cluster suicide event in 2005 (lost 9 people to suicide in one school year), I knew something had to change!  What could I do that was simple easy and quick, since the school year was about to end.  I thought back to my own high school experience in which the marching band held a candle lighting ceremony, I decided the next day to bring all (150 students) my students roses.  I asked them to tell me one thing they were happy about from the school year, or one thing that they were excited about for the summer.  

After the success of the first one, I continued the practice to the end of my career as a public educator.  The main thing I learned from the experience, is the power of keep one eye on the positive, or the future in the midst of all the negative things that might be going on around you!  One of my favorite things coming out of that event was watching my students walk around the rest of the day with the rose in their hand and the joy on their face.  The moment had done it’s job for the day- letting in a little joy.

  • I am never defined by the thoughts, actions, or beliefs of others. I am always defined by my own. 

One of the statements that I used to hear as a teacher all the time was, “If you respect me, I’ll respect you.”, or “You have to give respect to gat respect.”  I have never understood this philosophy.  Because the minute your response is determined by the actions of others, you are choosing to give away your power.  Always choose who you are going to be and stick with it no matter what actions others take.  That way you stay in control, and can go to bed know your actions match the person you want to be instead of changing who you are for others.

  •  Find your faith and live in it.

This life may have not turned out exactly the way you though it would in your youth, but finding faith and using it always gives you peace in the hardest of situations.  For me that faith is Christian.  When I was going through a particularly rough time in my life, I decided to try even harder to just let go and let God.  So, my motto today, is “To live the life God places before me in faith.

Thank you for joining me for this first blog for Ascent Cognitive Education Center.  We are a brand new nonprofit in the state of Colorado serving the cognitive needs of families that are dealing with chronic conditions that affect the brain.  All the programs we offer are based in scientific research, and some are world renowned.  If you are looking for longer-term results, and something that is not therapy based to restore peace to your family and home, give us a call  or email us to learn more.

Karyl Haden

Executive Director 

Ascent Cognitive Education Center