How I've Moved Through the 5 Stages of Grief After My Chronic Illness Diagnosis
Everyone has heard of the five stages of grief, I’m sure of it. Whether you’ve studied it in school or have read about it in a book or magazine, you probably at least have a basic knowledge of what it is.
Most, if not all, of us have thought about various losses in our lives and applied the principles of the five stages to what we’re going through. A death, the loss of a job, of a friend, or in my case, my health. I never thought of it too seriously until the last couple years when I became ill. I quickly found that you don’t go through the five stages in a linear fashion. I wish it was a simple formula so you know if it would be coming to an end soon. But it’s more like a lot of hopping back and forth, until you’ve finally reached acceptance, and even then, is the process really complete?
So here it is, how I’ve been going through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
I couldn’t tell you how many mornings I’ve woken up hoping my becoming ill was all just a horrible nightmare. One big, long, horrifying dream I will eventually wake up from. Becoming so sick (literally overnight) just happens in the movies; this couldn’t have possibly happened to me. When the grogginess of my sleep fades away and I realize I’m still tethered to my IV bag, the heaviness of what my life is like now settles back onto my shoulders, I throw off my blanket and start my day with a weariness like no other.
I still have moments of denial from time to time when I think I can do something I could once do when I was healthy. Even just my schedule has to reflect my energy and health, and if I ignore that and deny the fact of how sick I actually am, I pay dearly for it and end up sick in bed for days at a time. Denial likes to hang on as long as it possibly can, to make sure you miss your old life, miss your health, miss whatever it may be for as long as humanly possible.
Ooooo! This one was – who am I kidding, is – a tough one for me. I don’t even know how to start expressing to you how angry and devastated I was that I got so sick. I was angry at myself, at the doctors, at the hospital, at the situation, at God, at probably anything and everything that could have possibly changed the outcome of how I came to be so, so very sick. I was mad I woke up so ill. I was mad I couldn’t have any more babies. I was mad I couldn’t work anymore. I was mad I’m suddenly so dependent on others. The anger and bitterness that seethed out of me the first few months was awful.
I don’t know how many times I literally fell to my knees, so angry that I was crying, yelling and cursing up at God. I have used some ungodly, not so ladylike language in my ranting to God in the past couple years, and you know what? That’s alright. I learned that God can take it. I believe He would rather you let it all out and tell Him how you’re feeling. He knows your heart anyway – might as well just vocalize it. Do you know how cathartic it is to yell at someone? Some of you may think I’m absolutely ridiculous for yelling at my God, but I believe it’s better than keeping it in and it’s way better than yelling at someone else in your life. If I yelled like that at my husband, well, I don’t think he’d appreciate it so much!
To be honest with you, I didn’t spend too much time on this one. I think because I’ve always been a realistic person, I’ve never seen myself as either optimistic or pessimistic. I’ve just always realized what is, is. There’s really not much to be done. No point in regrets. Let’s learn from the past and move on. So, who would I be able to bargain with? Sure, I pray God will miraculously heal me. “Heal me and I’ll do literally whatever You want me to do!” Maybe I should switch that around and say “I’ll surrender my life and then maybe You’ll heal me?!” But realistically I know my health and my life have changed dramatically and there’s no point in wishing and hoping and wondering what could be. This is it, it’s in my own hands now and I need to push forward. I’ve always hated relying on others, so maybe that’s where that attitude comes from.
I struggled with depression since day one of my “new” life. This is about as vulnerable as things get with me, but when I woke up from being sedated and was told my small intestine had been removed and my quality of life would be “severely diminished” from now on (actual words from the doctor with a horrible bedside manner), I wanted to die. That was it. I was in so much pain both physically and emotionally. I was absolutely devastated. And the challenge set before me was too hard. I didn’t want to deal with it.
Although I would never call myself suicidal, I would have been perfectly OK if something had happened the next day and I would’ve died. This is the attitude I held for the first 18 months of being sick. I know I’m not the only one who has felt this way. I’ve spoken to many people who would describe their depression in the exact same way as that: “I don’t want to kill myself, but I’d be OK if I were to die tomorrow.”
I finally realized I needed help. I sought out a counsellor, and after months of seeing her, I realized I also needed even more help and I went on anti-depressants. By far one of the best decisions I have ever made. There is no shame in needing help – whatever form that may take.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please talk to someone. A friend, a doctor, a counsellor. There’s also the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in Canada (1-800-273-TALK) and the National Suicide Hotline in the USA (1-800-SUICIDE).
I think I have finally come to the point where I have more or less accepted my illness. I say more or less because I still hate it. I hate my diagnosis. I hate that I’m sick. I hate that my life is governed by these circumstances. However, this has become my “new” normal. Soon enough I won’t be able to call it my new normal, and it’ll just be my normal. I know how to structure my days and weeks so I can benefit the most out of them. I know how to save energy for certain events and know I’ll need days, sometimes a couple weeks, to recover. I know the consequences of forgetting certain meds, eating certain foods and staying up that extra hour. I’m used to this now. This is my life now.
I don’t know if I’ll ever come to 100 percent accept my circumstances. I’m sure I’ll go back and forth and go through these stages again and again, especially when it gets in the way of living life “normally.” But for now I think I’ve accepted things as best as I can and I need to be OK with that. And no matter what stage you personally may be in, that’s OK too. There’s absolutely no need to rush through the stages of grief, regardless of what you may be grieving. It takes time and it’s important to fully process the losses in our lives. Everyone grieves at a different pace and in different ways.
And that’s OK.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.
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