Living With A Chronic Illness Part 2

Last time you heard from me, I spoke about mental effects of chronic illnesses on an individual. This time, I want to focus on layer 2: the physical effects and then how they intertwine with the mental aspects.

Since there are so many different chronic illnesses, there are a lot of different symptoms someone can go through. They can be body aches, muscle pain, digestive issues, extreme nausea and vomiting, headaches/migraines, cloudy memory, insomnia, chronic fatigue and more.

These symptoms can make living day by day incredibly difficult because it takes a lot out of a person in terms of physical energy and mental energy. This is why discussing the physical alongside with mental is important. When your body is physically depleted but you need to keep running on fumes to continue your daily life, it catches up to you and that’s when your mental health starts heading south along with the physical.

Having these physical problems daily makes it really hard to go to work, hang out with friends, spend time with family, relax and do things you enjoy. A lot of time is spent trying to get through the pains, nausea, the headaches and whatever other symptoms the person may be dealing with. No matter what age you are, this takes an incredible toll on your life.

For me personally, I know I have a lot of problems with anxiety that brings on horrible panic attacks at least once a day (usually when I wake up) that last 3-5 hours which then leads to intense nausea and throwing up. This has landed me in the hospital a couple of times to make sure I’m not becoming adrenal insufficient (something that can be fatal because your body isn’t producing enough cortisol) and wipes me out for a solid week or two. I also deal with chronic fatigue that causes me to become exhausted much easier than it should. I’m only 25 and have the body of what seems like a 60-year-old.

Having those symptoms definitely put a strain on my social, work/school and family life. I can’t commit to too many things because I never know how I’m going to wake up. This is the harsh reality of so many young people who don’t “look” like they have anything wrong with them. It’s a constant cycle of ensuring you give yourself what you need (time, rest, patience) all while balancing friends, family, work/school and extra activities. For a “normal” person, it’s hard. Imagine it if you had to deal with symptoms of illness every single day.

The cycle of putting yourself first, finding time for others, keeping up with responsibilities is hard. Not only will you overextend your physical energy, you’ll also find that your mental health will suffer with it and it always feels like there is no end in sight.

Best advice for dealing with everything?

Honesty.

We need to be honest with the people around us in our lives. Friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances. And I don’t mean a “Hi, I’m Catarina and I’m chronically ill!” type of being honest. If you’re going through a rough patch during something you’re supposed to be doing, you need to tell people so that they know you need to take it a little easier or that you need to be given less responsibility.

Some of you are probably thinking, “are you crazy? Asking people to give me pity? I don’t want pity”, but that’s not what I’m asking. I used to think that before, that if I was honest that people would think I wanted pity but I quickly learned that for my own health’s benefit, I need to let people know what’s up. If it’s a day where I don’t feel like I can get through without feeling really ill, I’ll speak up. If I know I can get through it, I just leave it be.

Most importantly, don’t forget to be honest with yourself. If you’re not doing well on a day you’re supposed to go out, ask yourself if it’s a good idea to follow through and suffer more the rest of the week. Ask yourself if you’ll actually enjoy yourself when you go out or if you’ll be fighting to ignore the symptoms more than you’d enjoy yourself.

When you’re honest with yourself and others, the rest will fall into place. It’s hard to admit these things because you’re afraid that people will think you’re asking for pity or attention. But it is one of the most freeing feelings in the world when you let your guard down and show strength through allowing yourself to be vulnerable with others. Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness.

XOXO, Catarina