What do you do when you have an expected new symptom? Or weird side effect from a drug or surgery? Or a better question, how do you feel, not just physically but also emotionally? It’s tough having a chronic illness. It’s tough starting a new medication or having a surgery. And so many chronic illnesses are invisible, so it’s difficult for others to understand exactly what is going on with us.
The inspiration for this post came from my experience on Saturday morning. I had a hip arthroscopy two weeks ago, and on Saturday when I woke up and started to hop around on my crutches, my foot turned purple, as if all the circulation was cut off. I had a friend staying with me, and honestly, her reaction heightened my anxiety about it. I managed to keep a somewhat level head, emailed some of my practitioners and texted my brother’s partner who happens to be a doctor. Apparently this is a normal reaction after lower body surgeries. Basically I have to keep my foot elevated (at least at heart level) as much as possible. I did also go to the walk-in clinic that my family doctor works at. The doctor I saw looked at my foot and double checked that there were no blood clots, then suggested elevation and compression socks and sent me home.
There are a couple of reactions we can have in situations like these, which, let’s be honest, happen often when you have a chronic illness. One, is fear, which, like I mentioned, is easy to be drawn to. It’s the fight-flight-freeze response, with flight or freeze usually taking over. It can be scary, overwhelming, anxiety-producing, even upsetting. It can also cause depression and sadness, because of course, something else stupid and terrible has happened to you. These are normal reactions, and short term responses like this are totally fine. The problem develops when these feelings take over, especially when you have a chronic illness because these situations, these stressors, are going to keep happening. If you are feeling like this more often than not, it’s time for some professional help. Seek out a therapist, because you don’t have to feel this way forever.
The second reaction kind of goes more with the “fight” part of the fear/anxiety response. This reaction is one I often go with which is “how am I going to solve this problem?” I do research (I will literally read scholarly journals online as well as just reddit threads – I need all points of view). I will ask the professionals I know, and the other Warriors I know. I will buy anything I need, whether I have the money or not. I will ask for help (I mean like I needed a ride to the doctor after all). This is a proactive response. The problem with this response is that it can ignore emotion. So, if you’re like me, it’s good to take some time alone to reflect, maybe use some mindfulness, get inside your body and your emotions and let them be what they are. Holding it in can make things worse in the long-term. Mindfulness will be your friend.
A third reaction is acceptance. It doesn’t mean you don’t experience the short-term emotions of fear and anxiety mentioned above. It doesn’t mean you don’t do some proactive things so you can take care of your body and your symptoms in the long-term. It just means that in the present moment you can understand that this is a thing that happened. It is not a reflection of you. It is (usually) not unsolvable. We all have to deal with acceptance when we have a chronic illness. I did a whole podcast episode on illness acceptance (which I will link below). This is something I strive for always. Can I be accepting when something I don’t anticipate or like happens? I would say for myself, the answer is yes. I do tend to be proactive first, then I try to use mindfulness to experience my emotions, then I try to accept reality. Is this always a perfect process? No. I do have people in my life to help me – mainly a psychotherapist and a naturopath – who are specialists in this kind of work.
I hope everyone has a great week. Reminder, I have a premium blog post coming out on Saturday, so if you’re not signed up and you want some more work on self-care strategies, it’s only $5/month and it’s well worth it. Remember everyone, keep making the most of it.