Why I Struggle on the Anniversary of My Diagnosis

Earlier this month I reached my 13th year since my diagnosis of reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD).

Often labeled “diagnosis day” or “diagnosis anniversary,” it’s a day where once a year our conflicting feelings about living with chronic illness often intersect.

The anniversary of our diagnosis highlights the paradox of living with chronic illness – that for many of us our diagnosis has impacted us both negatively and positively. Among all the loss and sadness, many also simultaneously experience times of happiness. Some have forged friendships they otherwise wouldn’t have, or found fulfillment in helping others struggling with the same illness all while dealing with health issues they wish they didn’t have.

My diagnosis anniversary has looked differently throughout the years. I think back to my first year and recall the clashing feelings of both deep sadness and hope. On one hand, I was still mourning the loss of my old life, while at the same time optimistic and hopeful that some of the treatment options available still hadn’t been tried.

Over the next several years, vacillating emotions would quietly jostle around in my mind on my diagnosis anniversary. Some years the realization of my strength was forefront, and on others it was merely a painful reminder of the devastating loss that accompanies chronic illness.

When I reached my 10th year with RSD, the jolt to my psyche was palpable. I was now 33, and the realization that a third of my life had now been lived in severe pain with serious chronic illness, was extremely distressing. It took a lot of time, support and patience for myself to understand that acceptance is fluid and all part of the journey.

Just like an anniversary of the death of a loved one, the annual reminder of the loss of our healthy selves has an impact on us. Our heart aches, we mourn and eventually persevere, but the reality of our loss sticks with us forever.

There’s no right or wrong way to deal with a diagnosis anniversary. Paradoxical emotions surrounding the day are normal. Laugh, cry, scream, celebrate, hide under the covers, or ignore- there’s no perfect way to be.

As for me, I spent this last anniversary reflecting. I let myself feel all the negative feelings I hold about being chronically ill. All the sadness, fear, and uncertainty that come along with being sick. But, I made sure to honor what all of us facing chronic illness and disability have within us- strength, courage, and bravery.

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