The Chronic Illness and Life Rollercoaster
I recently attended a class where the stages of grief were outlined. The stages were denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. As the instructor discussed each stage, I realized that my multiple sclerosis diagnosis threw me into a bout of grief that I keep cycling through.
You see, living with a chronic illness has not been predictable enough for me to just get to a point of acceptance. I get to experience facets of my illness every day that may touch on one stage or another. The only thing that I am certain of is that I can no longer deny that I have a disease.
Unfortunately, my husband reminded me that I often will choose to deny how I am affected by my illness. Not only does it become difficult to know my capabilities at times, but I definitely find that I want to deny that my abilities are faltering. Life gets harder and I refuse to admit that. I will push through situations that may be dangerous because it is difficult to accept new changes.
When I was first diagnosed, like many I fell into a pit of “woe is me.” I did not deny my disease. I accepted it and immediately ascribed it the ability to take my life from me. What I was denying at the time was that I was scared of the unknowns that had entered my life. I denied that it made me sad and scared and angry to be diagnosed with a chronic debilitating disease that there was no cure for. I believe I have passed completely through the denial phase. Thanks to this blog, I probably share more feelings than I ever denied having due to my illness. I accept that change will come, and I am willing to face it. Do you still find yourself stuck in a state of denial because you have a chronic illness diagnosis? Do you think you ever experienced this stage of grief?
I think anger is inevitable with unexpected change. It doesn’t make sense. The change is out of your control. Your life will be affected whether you want it to be or not! It reminds me of being a child and having something not go my way. I would yell, “It’s not fair!” as though that statement would change the situation to better meet my desires. Maybe whatever happened truly wasn’t fair, but stating this did not help the situation at all! I would just feed my own anger by reiterating the ways I was wronged. MS has become the same type of thing to me. When a new symptom appears or an old one comes to visit, my initial response is the same. I get angry. IT’S NOT FAIR! And yet feeling this way does not help my issue at all. I refuse to deny that emotion though. I do get mad about how my life is impacted and because I have so few opportunities to make my health better.
Bargaining is one stage that is easy to overlook. I am not an item on the shelf in a flea market. There are specific treatments for specific illnesses, and that is that. Not a lot to bargain with on this one. I do find myself trying to sway my odds. If I eat better and exercise then maybe my illness won’t get worse. If I cut out glutens and watch my dairy and sugar then maybe things will get better. While each of these thoughts may be true, I choose to focus on me as a whole person instead of me as a person with MS. I’m not going to try to bargain with my disease. Like making a bet, a bad move will draw much more negative if I focus all of my attention on one area. Instead, if I think of ways that I can make my whole body more healthy then it is not a bet. My eye sight may get worse, but I may be able to live another several years! I may not be able to negotiate my way out of having MS, but I can definitely work toward not making it too easy for any other illness to happen!
As one of the stagesof grief, it is no surprise when depression rears its ugly head. What is surprising is how you can feel like you have it beat and then pow! it hits you again! The good thing about depression as part of dealing with grief is that it will pass. There is nothing to hold you in a state of depression if you truly want out. The losses that accompany a chronic illness may make you feel helpless or hopeless, but those feelings will pass as you recognize all of the help that will come into your life and the hope that it gives. You should be able to find support in your friends and family, and even through social media like on this blog!
Acceptance doesn’t have to mean never feeling negative about your illness again. For me it reinforces the idea that whatever happens today will pass. I don’t even know that it will pass into a good thing, but I do know that I will be able to get through it. I accept that I am strong enough to deal with this illness. You can too!
Grief is a natural feeling when diagnosed with a chronic illness. Just like all expressions of grief, we each will deal with it in our own way. However to know that this is an experience that we will all share, and that the stages we go through will be similar may be helpful. With a chronic illness you may experience the stages of grief like a rollercoaster that never stops. If so, sit back and enjoy the ride!