Why I Stopped Fighting My Chronic Illness With Anger
When I first got sick, I went through a downward spiral physically and emotionally. For the first few years I lived in deep grief and sadness asking myself, “Why me? How could this have happened to me?”
I did all the right things — I exercised regularly, I drank a lot of water, I ate whole grains and low-fat foods, I never smoked, amongst other things. I always envisioned myself living an active, healthy life into my older years. I was 40 years old, my life only half over, and yet, inflammatory arthritis made me feel as though I’d aged 30 years.
At first, I was angry with my body. I got angry at my body when I couldn’t open the laundry soap box. I got angry when my forearms would hurt after wiping up the kitchen sink. I got angry and frustrated when my feet were so painful I had difficulty walking.
I was angry and frustrated at not being able to do all the things I was used to doing. I so desperately wanted to, but I simply could no longer. That anger and frustration kept me pushing myself beyond my limits. But what little I did do always increased the pain and fatigue.
I also resented having to spend so much time every day icing and applying anti-inflammatory creams on most of my joints. I resented having to rest after 15 minutes of activity. Ice and rest seemed to go hand-in-hand with any activity I chose to do. I resented the long list of physical therapy exercises I needed to do for many of my joints. I longed for the days when I could do things like simply floss-and-brush and go to bed. Why did this all have to take so much time?
Pushing myself was a bad idea since it caused more pain and took longer to recover. I needed to learn to live within my new physical limits.
One day, I realized that getting angry at myself is not going to help me in any way. I recognized that I was fighting my own body and ignoring its pleas to stop or slow down. If a friend felt the way I did, I would never treat her the way I treated myself. I began to pay closer attention to my body’s pain and symptoms and respond positively.
Do I need to lie down? OK. Do my hands and arms hurt today? If so, then leave the dishes in the sink today. My feet are sore today, so do grocery shopping another day. My body is telling me something every day and I need to pay attention to it.
Eventually I moved away from feeling like an angry victim to feeling like an advocate for my own health and well-being. Life is much easier when I think of my body as my friend. In many cultures of the world the body is considered a temple for the soul. In my journey with chronic illness, I have learned to become a better steward of my own body.
Now, I try to respect my body’s needs. To cut down on some of my frustration, I started giving myself extra time to do the things I need to do. For example, I started getting ready for bed over an hour earlier so I can do my lengthy bedtime care routine and get to bed on time. I began to look at my life and my self-care in a different light. Today I appreciate all the things I do for my body because, in general, I feel better than I did in those first several years of fighting against the illness, pain, and fatigue.
A good thing to come out of chronic illness is that it has forced me to slow down, to rest often, to pay attention to my body, to drink when thirsty, to eat when I’m hungry, to stretch when I’m stiff, to move my body when it feels like moving around.
I no longer fight my illness because that approach didn’t work for me. I accept that I have multiple chronic conditions, and work with my doctors to find treatment that helps to prevent flare-ups. I no longer ignore my body’s warning signs. For me, the language of self-care works better than the language of fighting.
Today I embrace my body as my friend and partner in life.
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