It’s OK to Feel Angry or Resentful Sometimes When You Have a Chronic Illness
Something I greatly struggle with are the emotional ups and downs that come with dealing with a chronic illness. I have three chronic conditions that have affected me to varying degrees throughout my life: psychological, neurological, and autoimmune. Most of the time, I handle it relatively well; I am able to stay positive and appreciate all the things that go right in my life and that I have been gifted with. These illnesses have also enabled me to value and treasure the good days all the more. Sometimes though, my resilience fails me, and the smallest thing can send me over the edge, like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
This tends to surprise people, because I apparently project a very different picture. I do speaking engagements in which I share my experiences with mental illness, and I am often told after my presentations that I am “brave” and have such a positive attitude. Every single time that happens, I smile, say thank you — and feel like a complete and utter fraud. Because although I share some of my worst times with the audience, I am also there to deliver a message of hope and inspiration, which is of course the note that I end on. Don’t misunderstand — the message I deliver is one I strongly believe in, but people inevitably get the impression that all is well with me now, I am at peace with my situation, and I am only ever courageous in the face of it. The reality is far different; I am not invincible, and sometimes I reach a breaking point and feel like railing at the world.
I am a graduate student and when I developed mononucleosis this semester, I could not believe it. First, I have already had it before, and it is very rare to get it twice; and second, I am in my third and a half year of a three-year graduate program, because my path has been diverted multiple times due to health issues. My graduate school career has involved two severe depressive episodes, a two-week hospitalization, and the development and diagnosis of my third chronic illness. I started this semester feeling so excited: this was it, I was almost finished! … and now I was sick again?
A few days after my mono was confirmed, I was lying on my couch, extremely thirsty, but struggling to muster the energy to get up and walk the 10 steps to the kitchen, because the fatigue was so severe. I started crying and couldn’t stop. I was so sick of being sick! I was sick of my body failing me. I was sick of my health constantly interfering with my everyday life. I was sick of dealing with one thing after another and seemingly not catching a break.
At the same time, I felt a tremendous amount of guilt for the self-pity, resentment, and anger that was whirling through me. There are so many people in the world that are much worse off, that cannot afford the treatment that is so readily available to me, that have conditions far more serious than mine, and that have not been gifted with the same loving family, friends, and support system. Who am I to complain? Who am I to feel sorry for myself or angry, when I am fortunate in so many other ways? Though I have come a long way in accepting my illnesses, there are still times where I am overwhelmed with negative emotions. I hate these times, and I feel a deep sense of shame even admitting to them.
It has taken me awhile, but when I have these moments, I am much better at giving them the room they need. One feels like there is a certain permission required, but there is strength in allowing yourself to feel what you are feeling, without recrimination, and then working through it. Robert Frost wrote: “The best way out is always through.” Take a page from his book. There are a few things that I do when I feel this way. One is that I distract myself with a guilty pleasure, like Marvel movie binging or reading a romance novel. I also find talking to someone very helpful; I have identified key people in my life whom I know I can vent to without subsequently feeling guilty, and it is amazing how much just saying the words out loud to someone can help relieve the tension that comes from keeping it all within.
Another option is to write it all down — your journal will not judge you or say the wrong thing in an attempt to make you feel better, but provides a perfect outlet for you to express what you are feeling.
Different approaches work for different people, it is just about finding the right thing, and most importantly, reminding yourself that it is OK to feel what you are feeling. It does not make you a horrible or ungrateful person, it just makes you human. You are incredibly strong for dealing with everything you go through, day in and day out, so let yourself off the hook. It would be impossible to face every day and every hour with a smile on your face, and you do not need to. Feel it, work through it, and then bounce back.
Getty photo by Grandfailure