Imagine waking up one day and finding that your whole life has changed. Just like that you couldn’t be who you thought you were.
One day you are happily working full time in a job that makes you feel like you’re making a difference. You’re keeping healthy by visiting the gym most days of the week, walking whenever and where ever you can, and working on your diet (eliminating foods that you react to). It’s important to you that you’re keeping your brain active so, on top of all those other things, you’re studying to improve your skills in a field you want to expand into.
The next day you’re curled up in a ball on the couch, struggling to stay awake and living with pain 24/7. You can no longer do any of the things you could do the day before. Dreams you thought were certain to come true in your future are now uncertain, possibly even gone.
Over time, and with the help of a large team of medical professionals and other support people, you’re able to slowly build up your ability to do some of the physical and mental activities you were able to do before but you’re still not 100%.
This whole process is bound to stir up emotions. Lots of them! Both in yourself and in those who love you and care for you. How do you deal with these emotions?
Life with chronic illness is an emotional rollercoaster and you tend to cycle through the various stages of grief and acceptance throughout your life including denial, anger, fear, and acceptance.
There are several different models outlining the stages of grief and how to deal with them. To find out more about the stages of grief and acceptance specifically related to living with chronic illness, check out this free e-book from Katherine T Owen from Healing CFS/ME and this post from Rev Liz.
Today I don’t want to focus on what the stages are but on how to deal with our emotions in general.
Lately, I’ve been struggling with feelings of anxiety, fear and depression as I try and reconcile my preconceived notions and dreams (those I had before I got sick) with my reality. I had at least a week of feeling overly emotional and struggling with bursting into tears for no apparent reason at times.
Now that I’m starting to feel better, I’d like to share some tips about how to cope with these emotions. These tips are suitable for dealing with any extreme emotions (not just negative ones). This is important because if you are living with ME/CFS or Fibromyalgia any stresses and extreme emotions can impact on your health.
- Control what you can, accept what you can’t. This is a statement that’s easy to say but hard to implement. It seems pretty clear that you can’t control everything in life. When you live with a chronic illness this is doubly true. You loose control of any predictability in your day to day life in terms of pain and fatigue levels and what you’ll reliably be able to do. You find yourself unable to commit to activities or events, and when you do you may find yourself cancelling them often. What you can control is how you deal with these issues. Accepting that your life needs to be flexible helps you to reduce your stress levels. Determining your baseline and attempting to develop a routine that keeps you close to that baseline most days enables you to slowly build up what you can do.
- Be Mindful. This links in closely with the tip above. By living a mindful life and trying to stay in the moment, you can focus on the things you can do and be grateful for what you have in life rather than focusing on those things you can’t control.
- Have someone to talk to. This would preferably be someone outside of your immediate family. Why? The people around you are going through their own struggles learning to accept and adjust to the major changes to their lives that your illness has been responsible for. Having someone outside that you can talk or vent to is important for maintaining mental health. It’s important not to bottle everything up inside until it explodes.
- Be as active as possible. I’m not saying go running, or even go for a walk around the block. What I am saying is do what you can to keep your body as healthy as possible. This may be as little as a few stretches in bed. I find when I’m able to be more active I’m able to clear my mind more and deal with the emotions that are there.
- Sit with your emotions. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s important not to bottle up your emotions. I’ve found if I allow myself to cry if I need to and just sit focusing on my breathing and not trying to suppress my feelings it can help me work through them. You could also try journalling to get everything out.
These tips are specifically focused on dealing with the emotions that arise because of chronic illness in your life. They are not the be all and end all, and I’m sure you can add some more of your own, but they are a starting point. We have previously done a post on being mentally strong which also holds some helpful tips.
Do you have any tips of your own that you’d like to share?
How do you cope when your emotions are running high?