When Change Is the Only Constant in Your Life With Chronic Illness


Several weeks ago, I was in the middle of a homework assignment and I came across this quote from the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

I sat back in my computer chair, overwhelmed with clarity. Applied to chronic illness, this quote made so much sense to me! The very reason managing chronic illness is so difficult is because it manifests itself differently every day – sometimes every hour – and our bodies are constantly changing.

For instance, today I’m freezing cold, no matter how many layers I’ve put on, particularly in my hands and feet. I got a good night’s sleep, yet I’m completely exhausted. Not the “shut your eyes for a few minutes to rejuvenate” tired but the kind where I could easily sleep for three or four hours and maybe feel rested afterwards. My joints are achy and the pain in my neck and shoulders is hardly bearable.

However, yesterday was totally different. You see, yesterday, my stomach hurt so badly that all I could think about was how good it would feel to throw up. The nausea was my overwhelming symptom and that made eating anything extremely difficult. My body was so warm to the touch I slept on top of my blankets last night.

These are just small examples of how I deal with different symptoms every day. A healthy person or someone unfamiliar with chronic illness may think, “What does it matter that your symptoms are different every day?” However, a fellow spoonie or an educated, healthy individual knows why and just how much it matters.

Different symptoms every day can cause anxiety; we never know what’s just around the corner. This makes planning extra difficult. Spoonies know we have daily, vital questions to answer. For instance, “What should I wear today? What medicines should be on hand? Will I have enough spoons for such-and-such activity?”

Chronic illness warriors always have to be aware of the weather, traffic conditions and nearby restrooms. We are continuously in search of allergen-friendly restaurants, accessibility conditions and friendly faces to accompany us on our outings. We seek empathy, not pity, in the company we keep. Understanding friends and family members grasp that despite the very best planning and preparation, we still cannot control our bodies. Last minute flare-ups can lead to last minute cancellations; it is simply unavoidable some days.

As the wise philosopher, Heraclitus, noted over 2500 years ago, change is the only constant. This affects our bodies, minds and experiences every day. Managing chronic illness is a taxing journey; I’m grateful for the homework assignment that led me to the aforementioned quote. Heraclitus validated my experience; I hope today I have validated someone else’s.

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