Are You Grieving an Illness? It's OK to Repeat the Stages of Grief.


Most people think of grieving processes as something that follows the death of a loved one, but there are lots of other reasons to grieve. Grief can be a helpful tool when facing any sort of major life change in which your former life is gone, and you need to adjust to your new reality. Most of the time these are bad changes like the death of a loved one or a diagnosis with chronic illness, but I also think that grief can be used to adjust to good changes too, since even good changes can alter your life forever. The most common description of a grief process is a five step model: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

When I was diagnosed with a chronic, incurable illness I had already been sick for several years. I thought I had already adjusted to that, but despite my often pessimistic attitude, I had been holding on to hope that if I was diagnosed then I could be cured. Once I was diagnosed I had to face the fact that I wasn’t going to get better. This started a grief process that is complicated by the fact that nothing is absolute. For instance, I can still garden a little but I can’t garden like I used to, I can still work part-time but it is very part-time, there are treatments for my symptoms but there is no cure.

This lack of finality or certainty complicates grieving primarily because I regularly have to decide what things to accept and what things not to accept. A large part of this grief is accepting the unpredictability of my symptoms, but in the day-to-day grind where do I draw the line? As an example, I’ve often realized that something I thought was normal is actually a symptom. At that point I have to decide if I should just live with that symptom or seek treatment for it. If I seek treatment for it I have to grapple with the fact that it might not help, or it might have very bad side effects, or even that it could be a sign of a previously undiagnosed condition. I have to make choices like this on a pretty regular basis. All of these stages of decision making result in a complicated process with layers of grief.

The current result of all of this is that I see in my own life is a cyclical grief pattern. At my best I have a generally fighting attitude in which I am determined to find out how healthy I can be and live at that level. Then, eventually, I get tired. Physically tired from trying so hard and pushing my boundaries, but also emotionally tired from the constant mental battle. After that I get depressed. Eventually I find ways to break out of the depression and then the whole things starts again. Fight, tired, depressed…fight, tired, depressed…

As with all complicated grief processes, and I’d guess most uncomplicated grief processes as well, there is no clean cut five step program and then you’re done. It doesn’t work that way, and that’s OK. It’s OK to repeat steps, it’s OK to have to keep working on this, it’s OK when you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere. You’re doing a good job.

Getty Image by Naked King


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Chronic Illness

Man's eyes with blue tint

Man’s Eyes Turn Blue After 15 Years on Antibiotic for Arthritis

Medications can help us function and prevent some illnesses from getting worse. But medications are complicated, and even when they work for you, they may come with side effects that you have to either live with or cause you to go searching for a new medication. Side effects don’t always happen right away, either. Some [...]
woman with superhero suit on

Today I Realized I Am Mighty

I haven’t been able to stabilize my health symptoms in the eight months since my flair began. I’ve been cautious with how much I share because I don’t want to seem dramatic or alarm anyone. In truth, I legitimately haven’t known how to categorize myself lately. All signs have pointed to one word— and if [...]
sign at doctor's office and tweet

Why This Doctor's Office Sign Shared on Twitter Has People Outraged

“Don’t look up your symptoms online, just go to the doctor!” you’ll often be warned if you have questions and concerns about your health. While doctors are necessary for managing your health, doctors don’t always have all the answers, as many people with rare, chronic or invisible illnesses have experienced. Doing your own research is [...]
Virus

Researchers May Have Found How Epstein-Barr Virus Is Linked to Certain Autoimmune Diseases

Researchers may have found how the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which causes mononucleosis, is linked to several autoimmune diseases, including lupus. Other autoimmune diseases with a possible link to the virus include type 1 diabetes, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease. EBV is typically contracted in early childhood and may [...]