Chronic illness is hard for us to wrap our minds around at times. We typically think of illness in terms of
two extremes: having a cold which you will likely recover from or having cancer with the possible
outcome of death. Rather illness, like everything else, is a spectrum. For some people illness is ongoing;
there is no stop or start point. And people with chronic illness are often called upon to justify their
illness. Have you ever heard someone say, “Well, you look fine”? Or feel like a medical professional
ignored symptoms that you were experiencing because the test results came back “normal.” Ever had
someone suggest it might “all be in your head.”?
It is difficult to comprehend that illness is not always visible. It is not because people don’t care, it is because they don’t understand. And how exhausting to be ill while having to justify and educate others about why that is. Isn’t it enough, after all, to be sick and to continue to do life to the best of your ability? Being sick is a full-time gig. Most of the time, you don’t get time off for good behavior.
So, if you are one of the brave souls plagued by chronic illness, you have been entrusted with yet another duty, to take care of yourself when it is hard to do so. And this doesn’t just mean to take your prescriptions as prescribed, to eat what has been recommended, to show up for all of your doctor’s appointments. It means not ignoring how these extra tasks affect your mental and emotional well-being. Unfortunately, we often try to treat the mind and the body as if they don’t live in the same house but as if they are neighbors who only talk occasionally. Your physical health is going to affect your mental and emotional health and vice versa. Don’t buy into the hype, recognize the reality.
There is a reason why stress causes flare ups. It’s because it is a toxin. So, recognize when pollution has
reached dangerous levels in your mind and body and start the clean-up process. Increase your supports,
lessen your stressors and consider seeing a therapist so you don’t have to do it alone.
Shanna Dickens is licensed clinical social worker in Wilmington, NC. Shanna has been a therapist for over 12 years specializing in the treatment of adolescents and adults who experience trauma, anxiety, depression, chronic pain and secondary trauma in helping professionals.
The Therapist Blog
Musings from the other side of the couch