Life With Chronic Illness: Actually, I’m Not Always Fine & You Don’t Have To Be, Either
I'm not always fine. There I was again last night, crying into my salad, snot and tears streaming down my face, just missing my bowl of greens as I caught them mid-fall with my napkin. My mom was beside me, hugging me and holding back her own tears. (I could hear it in her voice as she spoke her words, both reassuring and soothing.)
I broke down again.
It happens from time to time, albeit less frequently then it used to in the early stages of diagnosis. I'm an old pro now, navigating the rocky terrain that is chronic disease, but it's not a badge I wear with pride or flash very often.
I don’t talk about the disease much. If you know me, you know I tend to savor the good days and hole up in impenetrable solitude on the inexplicably impossible days, never really verbalizing much about either. This is my well-honed way of coping, but it also doesn’t do me any favors because most people assume I am always doing well: managing, coping, living, doing.
The uncompromising, oppressive pain waxes and wanes, but just like the waves of the ocean that always seem to meet the shore, it returns, unrelenting. And unwelcome.
I don’t take any medications, so when this occurs, I prescribe myself extra green juices, green smoothies and a good, solid, palliating cry (ugly cry face and all).
I am an advocate of positive thinking and a disciple of the movement, but I believe that championing for an individual to always stay in the positive creates a shallowness of emotions and relationships and a stuffing down of feelings such as sadness and anger, which have been deemed unbecoming.
When emotions arise, it is necessary that we acknowledge them and feel them, whether that be through tears or talking, so that these unsettling emotions can move through us and release out of us.
I don’t do this well. I shouldn’t say that; I do this well, but I could improve on my timing. I’ll find myself waiting several days in the hopes that I won’t need to express my pain and helplessness, and it usually culminates in a breakdown over a salad bowl. *sigh*
Below are three tips for recognizing and feeling your emotions so that you can be fine again.
1. Tune into your body and acknowledge your feelings as soon as possible.
What do your emotions feel like in your body? Are you holding your breath with anxiety? Do you feel nauseous with fear? Is your chest tightening in anger? I usually hold my breath and tend feel a general restlessness, a feeling of being unsettled all of the time.
2. Allow yourself to truly feel your emotions.
Settle into the discomfort without self-medication or distraction. Don’t reach for the food, or the remote controller, or the drugs or alcohol, or the sex, etc. I tend to reach for a snack or escape into the mindlessness and calamity that is reality television, which isn’t always terrible. Sometimes we need a distraction, but is it at the expense of your emotional health? Once the glass of wine wears off or the Real-Housewives-of-wherever ends, those emotions will still be there, most likely amplified.
3. Figure out which method of coping works best for you.
Do you prefer to talk it out with a loved one? Or maybe a therapist? Or maybe you just like to cry into your salad bowl like I do. Find out what works for you and do it as soon as possible so that you can release and move forward without the build up that comes from unexpressed emotions.
I'm not always fine. And you don’t have to be, either.
Maria Mooney, MSW, LSW, is a licensed social worker and holistic health coach. She received her B.A. in Criminology from the University of Miami and her Master's of Social Work from Rutgers University. She holds her holistic health coach certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.