My Chronic Illness Needs Me to Acquire Patience


I have never been a very patient person. In the past, my impatience showed when I made quick decisions, when I got cross with the traffic lights taking so long to change, when a driver in front of me drove too slowly, or when my husband needed days to make up his mind about going out somewhere. My impatience was shown by frowns of displeasure right through to full blown anger.

The definition of patience is being able to bear provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.

I asked my mother, during the latter stages of her life, when she could no longer walk, if she found her situation frustrating. Her response to me was, “Well, Rosie dear, you have to learn patience.”  Here I was with my mum, in her 90’s, still giving me lessons in how to live.

With the onset of chronic illness there were so many triggers for impatience. The long waits for getting a doctors appointment, particularly for specialists. The long waits in doctor’s surgeries. The long waits for test results. The waits to find out which drugs were effective. These all tested my patience.

But, the hardest was learning to be patient with myself. I was impatient about all things in life I still wanted to do at breakneck speed. And, I couldn’t do that any more.

I got impatient about the side effects not going away.

I was extremely impatient about my body. It just couldn’t stay awake! It wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do, it no longer had a fast speed.

My brain forgot things, it forgot words, I forgot appointments or turned up on the wrong day or at the wrong time.

I was impatient because getting a diagnosis took eight months, and getting the correct and effective treatment sorted out took nearly two years – and is ongoing. I didn’t expect this.

The emotions that came with impatience were not doing me much good. The anger, annoyance, moodiness, and abruptness can be quite destructive and can lead to fairly negative beliefs and behavior. Impatient me isn’t always the nicest person to be around.

Our society isn’t patient either. We Facebook, Twitter and instantly communicate. We want instant communication. It can be just snippets or bytes. It is often not thought through and can be superficial and irrational. It is impatient. We live in a culture that promotes instant gratification and busyness rather than patience.

There are many wise sayings about patience such as:

“Patience is a virtue.”

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” – Leo Tolstoy

“Patience is the companion of wisdom.” – Saint Augustine

My chronic illness needs me to acquire patience.

We are not born with patience, we have to learn it. Just think about the frustration we see when a hungry baby cries to be fed. Or, when a 2 year old has a tantrum because his needs are not being met. There’s no sign of patience there whatsoever. We seem to be innately impatient. But patience brings many rewards: peace of mind, acceptance, contentment, and maybe even happiness.

To learn patience, I have had to change my attitude and beliefs about myself and identify when I am not being patient and call it out – reminding me to be kind to myself. I took ages to learn to ice skate, it took lots of practice before it became comfortable. Learning to be patient is the same, it needs time and practice.

I am very comfortable with my impatience, like when I become irritated, outraged, annoyed, or when I start blaming others or get frustrated with others. Theses ways of acting feel normal.

So what do I actually do now?

I pull myself up when I am being my old impatient self. I tell myself that there is another attitude and a way to behave. Sticking my fingers up at the driver who is too slow isn’t the best and most adult way to behave. There is nothing wrong with being a bit slower, and rushing doesn’t do me any good. Nor is getting impatient and annoyed at a 40 minute wait at the doctor’s surgery. I take a book or a crossword with me now. I am changing my behavior!

I think about the mystery of the human body and its complexity, rather than think that I should have immediate answers to my health issues. My mantra is now, “This is how it is! I am still on the green side of the grass, so enjoy it.” That takes the angst away. That builds my level of patience. I do not expect the doctors to have instant answers.My talk about myself is changing. I have stopped telling the saga of how hard it all is, and I have stopped the “why me” conversation that I never voiced to anyone else, but listened to in my head. I have stopped venting about my frustrations. I don’t beat myself up about my limitations anymore. The acceptance that comes is very peaceful.

It’s amazing to think that I don’t have to rush about in a frenzy, I don’t have to let frustrations or behavior of others deflect me into impatience, I don’t have to feel hurt by the behaviors that used to make me impatient. And best of all, I can stop beating myself up about becoming chronically ill and how long it has taken for progress. It has been good to develop some patience.

Patience really is a virtue and my mother was right.

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