This post is for Invisible Illness Awareness Week (September 8th – September 15th 2014)
Imagine you are a marathon runner, struggling during the half-way mark. You are fatigued, suffering from muscle cramps and out of breath. However you are determined to complete the marathon and cross the finish line. So, what spurs you onto the finish the marathon despite the pain and fatigue. I can imagine that one thought would help is the knowledge that the end is in sight and the knowledge that the pain and fatigue will eventually end.
A life with an invisible chronic condition, however is no way alike to the marathon analogy above. There is no knowledge that pain, fatigue or other symptoms will end when living with a chronic illness. There is no finish line when living with an invisible chronic illness. The question, therefore is if we do not know when the pain, fatigue or other symptoms that torments us will end then what help us get through our lives with a chronic illness?
In my opinion, one important component for surviving a life with a chronic illness is hope.
Hope that despite living with debilitating and life-altering symptoms, that we can still lead a normal and happy life.
Hope that the symptoms will eventually ease. Hope that one day there may be even a cure.
For those living with an invisible chronic illness, they hope that they will be believed and taking seriously as many as of you will have experienced, many are disbelieving of any disabilities or conditions because there are no outward signs of there being anything wrong.
The hope that everything will be OK.
Hope is essential in life for every person but perhaps it is more essential for those battling chronic illnesses as it is vital for pulling us out of the deep trenches of the pain, hurt and depression that living with illness can cause. It is hope that motivates us to push forward and keep living through the difficult times. In my experience, when my symptoms are particularly severe and perhaps am stuck in bed because I am unable to get out due to weakness, it can help therefore to believe that tomorrow will be a better day. Maintaining hope during hardships can make it slightly less difficult to bear.
Before the diagnosis of a chronic illness, hope is linked to the future and the plans and wishes that you have for the future. However, after the diagnosis, the hope and wishes for the future has suddenly a colossal question mark over them. The future is uncertain. Due to the uncertainty of the future, hope is therefore decreased. How do we maintain hope when the life we had known has suddenly changed? How do we maintain hope when due to illness we experience more bad days than good?
The truth is that each moment we are in chronic pain or affected by the symptoms associated with our chronic illness, we choose our attitude towards it. Ergo, we can choose to be negative and resentful towards our situation. Or we can choose hope and positivity.
For example, I often used to focus on all the ways that my neurological condition limited my life. Instead of focusing on everything that I am still able to do, I instead focused on the things that I was now unable to do. This type of cognitive thinking not only can lead to depression and anxiety but can also make you feel inferior to your peers. Now, I try and focus on everything that I am still able to do, and especially those that gives me joy and happiness. It instills me with hope as well as the reminder that despite the limitations placed upon my life, that I still have things to offer the world. Everyone reading this that like me is living with a chronic illness still has something to offer and has lots that they are still able to do despite there being things that they can no longer to do.
Illness is hard, there is no doubt about it. From my experience, I know that trying to maintain hope can be extremely difficult as sometimes it can feel that there is nothing to be hopeful for. But there are things out there that can be healing; things that can make you feel hope still exists even through the darkest of times. Simple pleasures every day can help alleviate suffering from pain, nausea or fatigue. These little pleasures does not have to be expensive or grandiose, but can be found in the simplest of things, such as watching a favourite comedy, enjoying a cup of your favourite tea, hugging a pet or listening to a favourite album. Whatever works for you. Try writing your favourite things down in a notebook; often when living with illness we can forget, and reminding ourselves of the fun activities we enjoy can help bring joy and hope.
To conclude, hope is just one of the components to be able to survive a life with chronic illness. Hope is the line between living a happy life despite chronic illness or being consumed by the negativity that illness can create. Letting illness consume our lives, such as focusing on the limitations that it places upon us can therefore lead us to lose our identity to our chronic invisible illness. As the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle said “As long as you make an identity for yourself our of pain, you cannot be free of it.” By choosing hope, however, we can lead a productive filled with the pleasures that heal us and brings us joy and free from pain.