by Audrey Berger, Ph.D. – Coach at Turning Point Life Coaching
It challenges your sense of who you are and what you can do, your feelings of safety, your beliefs about what you can offer to others, and your hopes for the future. It lies in wait – often for years – and pounces at a time of its own choosing. No matter when it appears, the timing is always bad. At first it often feels bewildering, leaving you wondering what it is, what to call it, how to understand it, and how to cope with it. And, even if you are finally able to give it a name, that doesn’t make it any less frightening or any more predictable.
Its impact on your day-to-day reality fluctuates. As its effect on your life ebbs and flows, waves of grief advance and recede again and again. It can steal so much of what you expected your life to be. It creates many unexpected challenges, and those challenges can create other challenges, in what may seem like a domino effect. There is no doubt that all human beings struggle at times, but it is the relentless and pervasive nature of these particular challenges and obstacles that distinguish them from many other life circumstances.
It is frequently invisible to everyone but you, making it difficult for people who know you to comprehend, and sometimes leaving you feeling like you are in this fight alone. It also separates you from others because you can’t plan your life in the same ways that they do. It is often hard to know how to move forward; because of how it can make life so unpredictable, sometimes it is difficult to even imagine what moving forward might look like.
This is life with chronic illness.
No one is immune from sorrow triggered by the losses caused by chronic illness, but you can learn to ride the waves of grief. The irony of living with a chronic illness is that, for all it steals from you, it can also bestow some significant gifts. One of the most powerful paradoxes of chronic illness is the way that it can truly help you to develop a deep sense of gratitude. The on-going fluctuations in your life can actually enable you to recognize more clearly what is good in your life, which can help you to better focus on the very things that are known to contribute to emotional well-being.
It is also possible to find meaning in your struggle, and to develop a new or renewed sense of purpose in your life. It is possible to learn to persevere in the face of hardship and to develop more resilience and resourcefulness than you expected. But, in order for these things to occur, you have to decide that you want to find a better way forward. And, you have to refuse to be made helpless.
ANOTHER WAY FORWARD
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Victor E. Frankl
Give yourself compassion for your struggle and credit for your efforts. Reset your expectations, and reach for things that are more aligned with your current sense of purpose, capacities and circumstances. Feed your soul with things you love and that you are still able to do. Resist the temptation to compare your life with the lives of those who are healthy, which can only cause you deeper grief. Try instead to focus on what you do have, and on what you can accomplish and experience in your life. Recognize and celebrate the ways that you are able to triumph over your illness, and appreciate the times when you get a break from this battle. Reach out for other people – those who have similar struggles, and those who don’t. Give to others, and you will gain so much in return. And, never forget that the essence of who you are has nothing to do with chronic illness – you are so much more than your illness.
Has your life been changed by chronic illness? Share your experiences with others:
What has been the most difficult challenge for you? What have you learned about yourself from this experience? What has been helpful to you?