Sometimes I forget that learning to live with a chronic illness is an endless grieving process. I tend to get very caught up in maintaining a positive attitude, and fail to let myself feel the negative feelings that naturally come with all the change and loss I’ve experienced while dealing with a chronic illness.
This past year has been a difficult one for me. There have been lots of changes and losses. I endured two long hospitalizations – one for six weeks and one for eight weeks with one week intubated in the ICU. I’ve been through multiple changes in caregivers. I’ve been dealing with my parent’s separation and impending divorce. I even made a major positive life change when I converted from being Jewish to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and though this has brought me so much happiness, it has wrought some negative side effects – significantly straining some relationships with family and friends.
Through all this I think I’ve maintained a remarkably positive attitude. I’ve become an expert at coping. I’ve channeled my energy into other things I still can do like scrapbooking, Alternate Reality Game design, web and graphic design, and novel writing. This has helped me keep my spirits up as I’ve created an identity for myself beyond being a “sick girl”.
This is all well and good. In fact it’s great! I love being happy. I have no desire to wallow in self pity. But that doesn’t mean that the negative feelings go away. But where do they go?
I’ve come to realize recently that I’ve been stuffing them away. I still feel deep sadness, mourning, and loss. I still have intense fear for my immediate safety and my future. But I keep that all hidden deep beneath my ever positive outlook. Why? Because feeling them hurts and I’m afraid of what they’ll do to me and my relationships if I let myself feel them.
Still they come out in other ways. I eat too much and don’t sleep enough. My obsessive compulsive disorder flares up.
So I recently came to the conclusion that I needed a safe place to let myself feel all these negative emotions once and a while. I decided it was time to see a psychologist – one that specializes in disability and chronic health problems.
I’ve only had one session so far, but that one session made me realize just how much I’ve bottled it all up and just how much I need to let it all out. Because living with a chronic illness is an endless grieving process, and sometimes it’s important to let myself feel the full impact of that.