How To Ride The Chronic Illness Roller Coaster

You start going up, traveling toward new heights, slowly, slowly, slowly making progress. Your adrenaline flows and the excitement builds as you rise up like a phoenix from the ashes of your former life. You reach new goals, making progress and seeing potential where you once saw nothing, the void that was hopelessness and despair.

You’ve never felt better. But suddenly and swiftly it happens; it's the drop off into symptomatic suffering, that free fall into despondent desperation. Your stomach is in your chest and you can't believe you're here again. You know this place all too well; the place where pain, sadness and hopelessness dwell, uninvited but unshakeable.

After riding several times, each time more disheartening than the last, you build a sense of apathy and a feeling of fierce protectiveness over your elation during the next climb (because you know, based on past experience, the fall is coming). Why should I feel hopeful when the pattern proves sudden drop-offs of varying heights are possibly somewhere on the horizon?

Every time this happens, I think, “Is this it? Have I reached a level of pain that I can no longer handle or reshape into something meaningful, a fabulous life lesson?” This is the thought that inevitably comes to the forefront of my mind, plaguing me like it did the time before. For days, even weeks, I believe it's undeniably true, that I can take no more.

Then suddenly, almost unexpectedly after so much pain and suffering, you bottom out, and the ascension begins again. Up, up, up. You climb out of sorrow and leave the torment behind, this time hoping that you never feel that frightening free fall again.

Do you struggle with these kinds of ups and downs that come with chronic illness? Below are three tips to help you ride the roller coaster that is chronic illness.

1. Savor the good days. 

When I have good days — or weeks — I savor them, tasting the sweetness they leave behind but understanding that I might have to live off their aftertaste, their memories, at some point in the future when symptoms flare. When you feel well, or as good as you possibly can feel given your circumstances, rejoice. I always do.

2. Expect the good days. 

During a flare, expect that it will end. Know that nothing lasts forever, because the only reliable aspect of this physical world is change. I honestly have moments when I feel like I just can't go on like this, but somehow they always pass. I wait patiently for that time, firm and stubborn in my belief that it will come.

3. Allow yourself to feel on the bad days. 

When the hopelessness sets in, welcome it for a time, but don’t let it take up a permanent residence in your soul. Taste its bitterness, but don’t let it overpower the sweetness of your life (because there is still sweetness to be found). Those candied times will come again, but they will have even more meaning the next time around.

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