Beating Chronic Illness-Induced Discouragement
I feel discouraged this week. Discouraged and alone. I feel frustrated with my health conditions. I feel very stuck - like a hamster just slowly crawling in its wheel, like swimming in molasses. And no matter how slowly I'm moving, I still find myself needing to take long rest breaks.
Over the past several years I’ve worked really hard to get to the point where I've been able to accept the state of my health and be pretty happy with my life, regardless of my medical conditions. These days I lead a pretty easy, content and comfortable existence.
But that doesn’t always stop me from going to the dark places in my mind. I visit those dark and dank caves much less frequenly than I used to, but I still can't seem to avoid them completely. And when I let discouragement out of its black confines, it really knocks me off balance.
Why did I let the discouragement beast out this week?
When I reflect on why I'm feeling so discouraged, I realize I have a lot on my plate right now, even on top of my health situation: Work stress, multiple family issues, and the strain of the holiday season. And there is one more thing that's been on my mind more than anything else. Allow me to tell you about it:
One of my closest friends went through some really tough health struggles for several years. When I met her a year-and-a-half ago, she had just about passed the midpoint of her biggest difficulties. I was so happy to become friends with her, not only because she's fabulous, but because I finally had a good friend who had first-hand experience of what my life is like. We both moved at turtle speed, dealt with pain, slept like it was going out of style, struggled with our moods and reveled in being homebodies. We spent a lot of time together, and quickly became close, bonding over our shared interests (and health conditions).
Over the past six to nine months, I have watched my friend gain back her heath. I've cheered for her as she's become stronger and stronger, and I have watched her integrate herself more and more back into “normal” life. I am thrilled to see that she's able to go on regular road trips, travel, socialize, exercise, work full time and lead a fairly active life. She's even managed to get off one of her medications. She is a success story!
So what's the issue?
The issue is that I feel like I’ve been left behind. My health hasn’t changed all that much since she and I met, so physically I’m essentially still in the same place. I'm also no closer to getting off medications or integrating myself back into "normal" life. Such is life with chronic pain and illness. It's chronic, and that it can make it hard to stand on the sidelines and watch other people heal and move on.
This week I realized I tend to feel discouraged about myself when I watch other people heal while my health situation doesn't change. And I've been wallowing in this discouragement.
It's important that we feel our emotions and it’s okay to feel sad about these things for a while, but it’s also important not to spend too much time in the dark caves. Experience the emotions, but stop when wallowing starts. That's a good time to shift your perspective.
Here's what I do to change my perspective: I focus on feeling joy for my friend who is healing. I focus on the things I can do, rather than the ones I cannot. I pull myself out of the cave with activities that bring me happiness, such as seeing friends, creating art, and reading. Once I start taking steps to get out of the darkness, it usually doesn't take too long before I'm feeling content and fairly happy again.