The Struggles That Come With Aging When You Live With Multiple Illnesses
I struggle with many things. I struggle with chronic pain. I struggle with anxiety and depression. I struggle with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis. I struggle with my weight and polycystic ovary syndrome. My struggle has been a very real reality for quite some time.
Doctor’s visits always brings out increased anxiety for me, and as someone with chronic illnesses I find myself having more visits with doctors. Some never see my struggles, and in a quest to “fix me” in 15 minutes they lose their empathy. One such example was when I asked my gynecologist about symptoms related to perimenopause, such as irregular periods. Her reply was, “You’re not going through menopause, you’re just getting old.” I left her clinic not only feeling older but vowing to never step foot in it again.
Not a day goes by where some malady or another doesn’t remind me that I’m approaching a certain age. I have a complete head of gray hair. My knees are worn down to those of a 70-year-old, and I sometimes need mobility devices. I am unable to walk up the steps, and find it difficult to get out of bed. I’m unable to brush my daughter’s hair because my hands hurt too much. One day at the mall with family costs three days of recovery time. I am no longer able to be as active as I once was, and I see my life slipping away from me. The toll of chronic pain is that is ages you years before you actually are “old.”
Getting older as a perfectly healthy person is manageable and expected. Getting older while living in excruciating pain leaves a person feeling bleak, aware of one’s life trajectory, and what’s in store for the future. Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis bring different components to “getting older,” as many are disabled by it and see their lives shortened by complications of RA.
Chronic pain and illness aren’t relegated to only the physical aspects of one’s health, it also affects one’s mental health. My anxiety centers around my health, wondering if I am functional enough to work, and making sure my household is in order. For the last seven years I’ve worked with a therapist to cope mental health issues that comes with chronic illness and pain. I have good days and bad days, and it helps me to remind myself that it’s only a bad day. Other days I feel like I’m aging at a much faster pace, because I’m living like someone who is in their 80s.
It’s important to find meaning in everyday life when one has a chronic illness. Something as simple as listening to the birds sing, reading a good book, or spending time with your loved ones reminds you that you are indeed living, even when life feels like it’s just existing. Connecting with others with chronic pain or illnesses reminds you that you are not alone in your struggles, and that others are in the same predicament. The most important thing to do is never lose sight of who you are, and that your illness or age does not define your worth or value to others. With wisdom and sage, comes growth and vitality, even during the worst of times.
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