There are days, weeks and entire seasons when coping with chronic illness feels like too much, like you are a ship stuck at sea, constantly taking on water. And no matter how many people are on deck or how quickly they toss bucketfuls back into the ocean to try and keep the ship afloat, it just keeps coming.
In real life, the metaphorical water that is weighing down the boat comes in many forms. Drawn out battles with insurance companies about getting a needed medication. Symptom flares that are more unrelenting and less responsive to typical intervention than normal. New diagnoses that complicate health protocols and require a period of education to become an informed patient. Life events, weddings, birthdays, holidays and family members’ milestones that demand energy that is often just not there.
When all of these things (and more) come at you fast and furious, it’s all too easy to feel that you’re not coping well enough; that you need to be doing more.
A few weeks ago, I was about a month deep into a serious “my ship is taking on way too much water” season. From one day to the next, a bladder condition that had been well managed for nearly six months skyrocketed and left me in total agony and with very few intervention options. This flare coincided with double family visits, various holiday parties and implementing an entire new treatment protocol with my Lyme doctor and FDN-P.
One evening during this flare, I was talking with my fiancé and telling him all the ways I thought I could or should be handling things better. I felt shame and embarrassment about how emotionally wrung out I was. My anxiety was at a racey high and I found myself on the edge of tipping into panic attacks much more often than usual. I was crying more and struggling with moments of intense discouragement and overwhelm. I was taking on water, and felt like my inability to make it stop meant I wasn’t doing a good enough job.
I immediately started to brainstorm a plan to “do better” — “okay, I just need to meditate even more, write out daily affirmations, take social media breaks, schedule a call with my health coach, etc etc…”
Although doing more of all of those things was and is helpful, I was also just going through a really difficult period. It dawned on me that maybe I was already doing a good job. Maybe I didn’t “need” a new plan. Maybe I just needed to give myself grace and kindness and allow myself to move through a challenging season without labeling the feeling as “wrong”.
This was a true lightbulb-a-ha-duh healing revelation for me. Just because things are hard right now, does not mean I am coping poorly.
I started to realize that I was placing totally unrealistic expectations on my coping toolbox. I was deeming my strategies not effective because I was hurting — as if I was expecting coping well to take away life’s challenges.
It hit me like a ton of bricks that I can’t cope my way out of feeling grief or pain and loss. That those are all human experiences that we will all encounter in some way shape or form during our time on this planet.
What we can do is build a coping toolkit to flow through life’s challenges with more grace and ease. To change the way we view, handle, relate to and care for ourselves through the hard stuff.
When I took a step back and looked with love at how I was coping when things felt so out of control, I realized that I was doing a lot better than I was giving myself credit for.
I was creating space for feelings of fear and sadness through yoga, journaling and meditation. I was slowing down to protect my peace and being careful to not push my body past its already taxed limits. I was being kind to myself on the days where I wasn’t able to do the things I had planned. And all of that, was enough.
Now, there is always room for improvement and additions to a coping toolbox; but the realization that “my toolbox is still working even when hard things are going on” blew my mind.
Life is full of ups and downs, ebbs and flows. And the chronic illness life in particular can have some low lows that are totally outside of your control. I realized that giving myself a permission slip, to accept and allow that process to occur, took some of the pressure off my coping skills.
It is up to each of us to learn how to ride the “lows” life throws our way with as much peace and as little damage as possible. To learn how to feel fear and hold ourselves close to console our heart. To learn how to to draw the boundaries we know we need but that make our voices shake. To learn how to find ways to create calm internally no matter what is going on externally.
Sending you all of my love and hoping that these words inspire you to practice loving kindness toward the “you” who is working so hard to cope with big challenges. I promise, you are doing better than your inner critic is giving you credit for!
I share each step along my road to wellness and healing and hope that in doing so I can inspire you along your own path. Thank you so much for being here.