While every person with a chronic illness is different, and even two people who have the same condition can experience it very differently, many people do experience various changes in their lives. These changes can be frustrating, anxiety-provoking and confusing. Naturally, with such change, as well as unknowns, individuals with chronic illness can start to experience symptoms of anxiety. Chronic illness and anxiety, on their own, can be exhausting, and someone experiencing either can at times feel hopeless, overwhelmed, frustrated and, of course, physically unwell. Many times, someone experiencing chronic illness and chronic pain will also experience symptoms of anxiety and depression due to the significant changes in their life, the emotional effects of their pain and the stress of the unknown. Here are a few things that people with chronic illness may experience, and what they can do to cope.
1. Experiencing anxiety due to the unpredictability of their symptoms and the many changes in their lives
When you have a chronic illness, there are so many unknowns, and it can be really hard to have so many things you must do in order to keep your head above water, including taking certain medications, attending appointments or resting when you don’t want to. The combination of having very uncomfortable symptoms, as well as feeling trapped in your body and current tasks for the day that may be both difficult and upsetting, can make you feel like you are not in control.
Having a chronic illness can sometimes mean surrendering – not to your symptoms, or to hopes for the future – but to the moment, which can be really difficult. While it can be helpful to surrender in a moment of frustration, it can also be helpful to have things in your day you can control. Having choices – even small ones – can help you feel like you are taking back some of your power. The choices you can make during the day do not have to be big ones. In fact, smaller choices will likely be easier and more attainable. Small choices can make you feel in control while you are surrendering to rest or a change in lifestyle or schedule.
An example of this might be: if you need to change your diet due to a health condition, lining yourself up with choices such as, if you need to cut out dairy, for example, trying almond milk, coconut milk and hemp milk, and deciding what you like best. Researching alternatives to foods you can no longer eat, such as alternatives to using gluten in a recipe (rice or egg noodles, potatoes, different grains such as quinoa) can not only add some control into your new lifestyle, but can also be enjoyable and something you can share with family and friends.
2. Needing to trust their intuition
When you have a chronic illness, you may be presented with an abundance of treatment plans, conflicting treatment plans or no treatment plans at all. This can be very anxiety-provoking, as the unknown can be scary, and you may have people in your life, with good intentions, advising you on what path to take. While it is of course important to follow your doctor’s recommendations, take the safest path and take good care of yourself, if you have several options that point in that direction – trusting your own inner voice is important.
Trust your intuition. Trust your body. Trust what you know. You may spend some time fighting with yourself on what is right for you. Treatments may be suggested that feel so wrong to you it will keep you awake at night. You may eat something you were told you aren’t allergic to, and you will feel sick and question if it is “in your head.” It is not in your head. Your body is a smart, living machine that can communicate its needs to you – sometimes in the form of discomfort. If something doesn’t sound right, it just might not be right. Maybe you need more information. Maybe you need to hear about alternatives. Maybe you need to hear about the possible positives and negatives of the choices you can make. Take some time. Listen to your body, listen to your heart and talk to the medical providers and therapists you trust.
3. Needing to explain their condition – over and over again – to people who might not understand
There are some people who simply will not understand what you are going through. It is not your job to convince them. This will go both ways. There will be people in your life who see you pushing through school, work and/or daily tasks who will question if you are really ill. There will also be people who know how ill you are and question why and how you are doing these things. It doesn’t matter what they think. It doesn’t matter what they think you should be doing. Only you can set your path. At the end of the day, if you can lay your head on the pillow and say you did your best, then that is your truth, whether you worked a 10-hour shift or had to call out sick. Trust your truth. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. You know how you feel, and you know what you need.
The theme, here? Trust, trust, trust. Trust your body, have medical professionals, therapists and friends in your life you can trust to help care for you and see you for who you are, and trust yourself to know what to do and what you need. Wishing you peace and wellness, always.