From Diagnosis To Acceptance: The Grieving Process of Chronic Disease

From Diagnosis To Acceptance: The Grieving Process of Chronic Disease

So many chronic illness sufferers have had to watch the death of who they once were, but this doesn't mean their new self has to be any less amazing!
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Today is going to be spent doing the medication shuffle, a loving term I’ve given to the gargantuan task of predicting, organizing, and packing the cocktail of pills I’m going to need in order to successfully get myself through my vacation next week.

Before I was ill -- a phrase that should probably be in inverted commas due to the weight it holds -- budget travelling was my raison d’etre. My life revolved around scoring cheap flight deals, shacking up in hostels, and trekking for hours on end around wonderful and mysterious new countries. Now, life is very different.

I was ill for years before I knew I was ill. Let me elaborate: I was plagued with uncontrollable symptoms, endless fatigue, and shaky mental health, whilst simultaneously being told there was nothing wrong with me. If you need some perspective, the problems started when I was in my early teens; I didn’t get my first diagnosis until a year after I’d graduated university.

Like many who go through the long, arduous journey of finding and diagnosing their chronic health problems, as my illnesses began to stack up I fell into a sort of grieving process -- grieving for the life that I once believed I could have.

DENIAL

From my own experience, and what I’ve heard from others, there are two ways to react to your diagnosis. Either you feel like your life has fallen apart around you, or there’s an overwhelming sense of freedom from finally gaining an understanding of your ailments. I was pretty decidedly the latter; I ignored all the ‘incurable’s and ‘for forever’s and, instead, pictured my miraculous recovery. I saw myself gallivanting across the world again, after magically overcoming all of my problems. In short, I was in denial.

So time went on and I did all I was meant to. I stayed sober, avoided bad food, did regular yoga, and meditated when I could. Now I finally had a name for the condition and I had started to make headway with the doctors. It wasn’t long before I had three more shiny new labels to explain my myriad of symptoms, but still that didn’t deter me.

ANGER

Just before my diagnosis, I’d planned my trip for that summer. It involved a month inter-railing around Europe, before jetting off to Australia -- via Asia -- for another month or so. It was ambitious, even for the healthiest of travelers, but I was determined and on my leaving date I was packed and eager to go.

Four days into the trip, it was clear the plan was unsustainable. I was getting little-to-no sleep in the hostels, had no control over my diet, and the constant stress of packing up and moving on was taking its toll. After a disastrous train journey to Berlin, I had little choice but to fly home. Needless to say, I was an emotional wreck. I spent a long time beating myself up, hating myself and, even worse, blaming myself for the situation I was in. I felt useless, pathetic, and uncontrollably furious at the world for dealing me these cards.

BARGAINING

After a few weeks recuperation, I tried a different tactic. I decided I was going to go to Australia, but this time there would be no more hostels, no more overdoing it, and an extra effort to keep my diet in check. Surely, if I made all the necessary compromises then things would be OK, right? Wrong.

I did make it to Australia, and I did have an amazing time, but the deals I’d made with the universe were not providing me the shining health I was hoping for. Several outings on my trip ended at the hospital or doctor, and many more days were spent consigned to bed.

This period was perhaps the most difficult to deal with mentally, because I was so sure I could find a way around my health problems. This was not the plan; I was meant to have it all worked out; I prayed, I meditated and sent out good vibes, but every day still brought on the same familiar ache of constant symptoms and flare-ups.



DEPRESSION

When I got back, I was plunged into a pit of depression. Every-one kept telling me how amazing it was that I’d manage to get to the other side of the world and back, but for me all I could do was re-live how hard every moment had been and how much strength it had taken. I didn’t regret going -- far from it -- but I felt like I had finally been brought face-to-face with the stark reality that the budding young vagabond I once was, was now well and truly dead.

I spent most of the following year resigned to my bedroom, scared to attempt even the simplest trips for fear of struggling with a bad flare up. My travels were limited to the three-hour train journey to visit my parents and school-friends back home. Life as a recluse did not sit well with me, but it did afford me some valuable thinking time. Gradually, I began to see my new self: a warrior -- not due to my ability to overcome, but for my power to endure.


My health might always be bad, I might not be able to do the same things as other people my age, but I realized, with courage, wisdom, and strength, nothing can stop me from living the life of my dreams.

ACCEPTANCE

Everyone’s journey to acceptance is different; finding comfort within your illness is such a personal path. For me, it was about learning to take things slowly. To listen to myself and my body, and to throw away the unrealistic expectations and honor the hardships I have to endure with pride and grace.

This summer, instead of planning a trip to rival Marco Polo, I settled for 10 days split between Spain and Portugal. This means enough time to really soak up the sights, but not too long to make enduring any health problems into a living hell. If it goes well then I have another few potential getaways lined up for over the winter -- no pressure, no stress, just taking each day at a time and seeing how it all unfolds.

So whilst my vacation requires more planning than ever before, and the chances of me wasting at least one day exhausted or in pain are very high, that’s not going to stop me from doing the thing that I love most.

If there’s one facet of wisdom you can take from my experience, it’s to not beat yourself up. Yes, health conditions can change everything, but finding happiness in the compromises you are forced to make is a skill that, once learnt, will give you wings and the power to fly, no matter what life throws at you.



Cover Image Credit: Shutterstock

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If You Give A Girl A Little Brother

You've given her the world.
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I remember back to my childhood, standing at the top of the steps yelling down to my parents "Why did you decide to have another child?" I remember riding in the backseat yelling "Mom, was I not good enough for you?" as my brother threw snow at me .

I remember crying when my mom made us share our first cell phone. I remember playing in a pool at a waterpark, and my dad couldn't play with me because my brother couldn't swim and needed my dad to be with him. I played by myself, thinking "They must have not wanted a girl when they only pay attention to him."

But now, at almost 22, I realized that the best gift God has ever given me was my little brother.

Give a girl a little brother, and you give her a pain in her ass.

Oh, he'll be annoying. He'll get in the shower just because you said you were going to. He'll start talking every time you do. He'll pull stupid pranks, he'll make you listen to bogus music, he'll make you watch stupid tv shows, he'll smell up the bathroom (and probably smell himself.) and boy, I promise there will be day's you will resent him. But he's just training for living with your husband one day.

Give a girl a little brother, and you give her a role.

As a big sister, I had somebody copying all my moves. If I did something, so did he. If I didn't eat something, neither did he. If I didn't like somebody neither did he. He was like a little shadow that did everything I did, so I was always motivated to make good choices and make him proud of me.

Give a girl a little brother, and you give her a rough side.

I wouldn't have done half the things I did if it wasn't for him. Play basketball in the drive way, spend hours on our bikes, spend the summer days in the pool, or down at the park. I wouldn't have learned that it's okay to get in the dirt and have some fun. I wouldn't have played half the made up, imaginary games we played every day. I wouldn't have played with Hot Wheels, or Lincoln Logs, or Leggo's. I would have played with Barbies by myself all day long, and what's the fun in that?

Give a girl a little brother, and you give her the best friend she'll ever have.

In the end, when our parent's both pass away, I won't be alone, because I will have my little brother. When the world gets tough, and everyone turns away from me, he will always be there. No matter where he end's up in life, I know he will drop everything and come running when I'm in need.

For Christmas this year, I bought my brother his first tattoo. We got matching tattoo's on our sides. Our lives our different now, because we're grown up and live on opposite sides of the state. But no matter where we go in life, if we look up, we will be looking at the same sun and moon. We are made up of the same matter, 'made' by the same people, and love each other more than I think we'd like to admit.

Alex is my true other-half.

Give a girl a little brother, and you made her whole.

Cover Image Credit: Abby Engel

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8 Places You Should Know About When Visiting San Francisco

Some of the slightly less known places in the city by the bay.

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If you are planning to make the trip out to the beautiful, and sometimes sunny, San Francisco, then I am your gal! After growing up in the Bay Area for the last 18 years, I know a place or two that captures this cities uniqueness and beauty from all angles.

1. Marin Headlands

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands.

Julia smoot

Technically outside of the city and across the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, the views from this place are unforgettable. There is so much to see from this perspective and it is an amazing way to see the whole city.

2. Haight-Ashbury

Jammin on Haight. The one of a kind tie-dye store.

Julia Smoot

One of the more "hippie vibe" locations of San Francisco. This one is my personal favorite, with all of the cool shops, cool people, and golden gate park right next door. Home to rock bands such as The Grateful Dead and a big part of the Summer of Love, this street has a lot of history.

3. Chinatown's Chinese New Year Parade

One of the dragons in the Chinese New Year Parade.

Julia Smoot

This is something that my friends and I have made a tradition to go to every year. The parade is absolutely amazing and so much fun to watch!

4. Lands End and Sutro Baths

Lands End Trail

Julia Smoot

These two happen to right next to each other, and both are very worth seeing. Lands end gives you great views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bride, with good hikes and trails. Sutro Baths are whats left of the old public pools in San Francisco, and they are super cool to see!

5. SF MoMA

View from MoMA top

This art museum is funky, interesting and very (you guessed it) modern. If you are into art and looking to spend an hour or two somewhere, this would be the place.

6. Earth Day Festival

Community Painted Wall at the Earth Day Festival

Julia Smoot

Out of the many festivals that take place in the city, this has to be one of my favorite. With live music, booths selling cool one of a kind things and information on how we can work to save the planet, I would give this festival a 10/10.

7. Golden Gate Park

Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park

Julia Smoot

I couldn't even begin to go into detail about how many things there are to do in Golden Gate Park. The De Young Museum, California Academy of Sciences, Conservatory of Flowers, Outside Lands, Live Music, Festivals, Art Shows and so much more. This is definitely one of my favorite places in San Fran of all time.

8.Twin Peaks

View from Twin Peaks

Julia Smoot

The trip to the top of this place is a quite the drive, but definitely worth it. I was amazed by the view the first time I ever went up there. It is a whole other perspective to see the city from, and it is absolutely amazing. Would not recommend going on a foggy day though.

These are just a few of the many stunning places in the city by the bay. I probably would not be able to put into words how amazing each place is.

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