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Learning to Live With the Extremes of Chronic Illness

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I am so weary, so very weary. I spend a lot of time on my iPad these days, possibly more time than is best for me. I spend a lot of time sitting in my recliner chair and trying to maintain a positive state of mind. Today I found the perfect description for me.

quote from Jaeda DeWalt: "My life isn't good or bad. It's an incredible series of emotional and mental extremes, with beautiful thunderstorms and stunning sunrises."
Image via Tiny Buddha

This is a quote from Jaeda DeWalt:

My life isn’t good or bad.
Its a an incredible series of experiences,
with beautiful thunderstorms
and stunning sunrises.”

In some respects this quote and image could be construed as an attitude of defeatism… or of extremism. But I actually think it is a statement of the reality of chronic illness. Chronic illness can bring such extremes.

The despair and terror when I am having an asthma attack is extreme: it is like a thunderstorm. It appears as if from nowhere, without any real warning. Some thunderstorms are devastating, others are fairly mild; my asthma can be just like this. Sometimes it’s like the worst thunderstorm ever. “Whammo!” It’s in full flight and I am out of control, just like a raging storm.

An asthma attack isn’t beautiful either. But it is pretty scary actually. Very scary for me and for my husband who has to try to calm me and has to tell me to “Take deep breaths, breathe slowly.” It’s like trying to pull up a horse that has bolted, and that too is pretty scary! You have to just get through to the other side – like waiting for a storm to pass.

My chronic illness, asthma, certainly has brought many things into my life. And one of these things is “a series of extreme emotional and mental experiences.” And yes, when it is over and when a few weeks later, I have recovered, then it is like a beautiful sunrise or sunset! I so appreciate being able to freely breathe. It feels like I have rediscovered all that is beautiful and wonderful. It is quite liberating to not have to think about breathing and to have to plan so much.

Breathing is automatic. Your body just does it. You don’t think about it at all. It is only when it isn’t able to work properly that you fully appreciate the effort your body makes to keep you breathing and how well your body finely tunes breathing. It is so excruciatingly exhausting when you have to consciously inhale and exhale and control your breathing. You start to use different muscles and that adds to the stress. It is effortful. It is tiring. It is scary.

After a bad attack, I seem to spend so much time measuring, medicating and being aware of my breathing. It hurts a lot of the time; my breathing feels “weird” and just “not right.” I am unable to explain it any better than that.

But the relief days later when it has passed and the afterwards of an attack is both emotional and mental too. Afterwards is when I no longer feel the tightness. It’s when it doesn’t hurt any more. It’s when I don’t have to keep checking and taking relievers. It’s when I can do simple things such as going to the shops without having to be cautious. It’s when my breathing is totally back to automatic!

Having the chronic illness of asthma, “my life isn’t good or bad.” My life just is as it is. But the chronic nature of this illness means I do actually go through a series of upheavals just as all of us who are in this situation do. We all have extremes to manage. We all experience the unpredictable.

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Thinkstock photo via KAZUYA TANAKA/amanaimagesRF.

Originally published: August 7, 2017
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