Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Grieving your old life in chronic illness....

Image: Pixshark via Google Images 

Grief is a natural process that occurs when we lose someone or something in our lives. I was never told by anyone in the medical field to prepare for grief when I was diagnosed with a chronic illness as a teenager. Instead I felt ashamed, frightened and less entitled to these feelings because I was still technically breathing and 'alive'. However, after many years of doubtful thoughts I realised I had lost something. I had lost something drastic in the form of my life, an identity, physical abilities and good health for the prolonged future. I had also lost my teenage years, friendships, a social life, my aspiring career, my ability to study, finding opportunities and most importantly, the ability to a quality of life. It was nearly my sixteenth birthday when I was told that my health issues were chronic and incurable. It was a whole cauldron of loss that unexpectedly arrived at a time and age where you are supposed to be discovering who you are as well as enjoying yourself.

A certainty in life is that we will all suffer with grief at some point, however illness can be a constant grief. To those who haven't experienced illness, the concept of mourning the loss of an old life before chronic illness arrived may not be envisioned as acceptable, or even possible. Especially illness on a chronic scale. However, the majority of us know it is not fair to physically compare the loss or coping mechanism of a person to somebody else who is also suffering a personal bereavement. Grief can come in all different forms, such as grieving over loved ones, pets, divorce, relationships, a job, financial woes. Grief shouldn't cause a person to be judged because there is no correct way, entitlement or category in which it needs a purpose.

There really are so many parts of dealing with grief, the five main processes being;
Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance 

There were many attributes that I went through over many years. Sometimes I felt all of these things at once, other times purely numb. Over my situation I have felt, anger, completely helpless, depressed, fearful, sadness, anxiety, low moods, loss of appetite, doubts and disbelief. Its is a consuming, drowning feeling. It's a constant weight to carry around, however realising it is all a process in your grief is a big step towards acceptance.

I was in denial for such a long time that my condition was actually chronic. Being told you can't be cured or really helped in an illness is a terrifying experience in life. For a long time I was so angry at what my situation had become, I blamed myself, my body, my genetics, anything that I could. However, there is no correct answer as to who or what is to blame for my health circumstances. It simply is a case of, it is what it is. I've come to realise there is no time limit on grief and no particular reason for it to consume you.

Upon reflection, because we are facing chronic conditions, there really is no time limit when it comes to the period of our grief. Sometimes it lasts a few years, a few months, weeks and sometimes we are reminded of it's presence every day. Anything can trigger the feeling. My own examples of when I am reminded of my own grief being, when I physically can see how different I've become to those of similar age, when I envision where I should be in life if I didn't have an illness, feeling stuck in my situation or when my body and mind feel like they've hit a brick wall countless days in a row. But typically, its usually when I'm having a really bad day with chronic pain and the realisation of how life has drastically changed through my illness.

Many things can effect the loss of life we feel and the reoccurring effect it may have on us. My own handling with grief comes in surges. Just like how we mourn the death of a loved one on their anniversary, poignant moments bring on all the old feelings of grief and possibly some extra on top for my increasing health problems. For instance, I find New Years really difficult to process.

Grief is draining, physically and mentally. There is so much that you lose, that just disappears from your life with a chronic illness. It has made me feel very numb, but at the same time distressed and unable to think straight. These types of feelings may convince you that you have mental health problems, but it also could be a factor or a form of grief. Nonetheless, grieving is a positive step, because you are being open to your feelings. The repercussions of shunning these emotions away in the long run usually ends with them exploding massively. Don't run from or block out your emotions. Find a way that you are comfortable with and that is suitable to your situation to confront it head on.

There may be examples that you may not deem worthy enough to feel sad over, however these things are very worthy of your emotions. You have the right to feel sad. It's important that you go through these emotions in order to get yourself in a better mental state towards acceptance. I really don't know why those with chronic illness, especially young teens and adults, are never told to prepare for the grief they may face. A brief warning on the subject may be what stops the cycle of despair and questioning for such a long time. It is something that is faced by everyone who deals with their individual illnesses and I am positive doctors are very aware of this. I do hope that over time, this changes and young people are prepared for and warned about the adversity they will possibly face.

Another process of grief is bargaining or wishful thinking. For example, praying for an easier life or for life to not be as bad as it seems. As well as feeling like you are being punished in the form of health problems. Not everybody is religious or spiritual and feels it is necessary to have relationship with God or a higher power. However for some, they really appreciate, find comfort and seek this within their everyday lives but at testing times especially. I'm not here to preach my own religious views, as I believe it's a personal choice as to what someone believes in. I wouldn't judge individuals in their reasoning for what they believe. However, I do believe I will find the strength to endure a hard life with illness, whether people think that comes from a higher power or within themselves is up to them to decide.

Even though those with chronic illness tend to live fairly isolated lives already, many of us end up isolating ourselves even further in order to deal with the grief. We can segregate ourselves in order to deal with what is on our minds in private, as well as our everyday pain. However, sometimes it helps as a form of release to share your feelings with someone you can trust. It may not occur to the person you are closest too that you may be facing this hurdle. They may not think this actually happens during illness. After taking a few years to actually accept that I was indeed grieving a loss of my life but especially my teenage years, I used this term to my Mum and she was instantly very supportive that in fact, this was true to my situation. Sometimes, I like to speak of what I am going through with someone close and some days I find it easier to process by myself. There is always someone to speak to in a difficult situation, even if it feels incredibly daunting. Speaking to those who you trust might be an outlet in releasing some of what you are facing or even speaking to a grief counsellor.

I'm not quite sure whether healing is a certainty in grief. When I suffered a personal loss of a really close family member a couple of years ago, I always tried to comfort myself and my family with the fact that you never get used to the fact they are gone or that you'll never see or speak to them again. That factor doesn't become easier to accept. However, you just learn to adapt to a new way of life without them. I believe this is true within chronic illness too, I can only hope that eventually we will all adapt and work through our grief of the loss of our previous lives. We will never be cured of grief, it is simply seeking happiness in ways that are suitable to our mind sets at present.

Through out my life, I'm pretty sure I've never never completely healed from what I have lost. However, it's not all negative. I am grateful for the emotions I have been through because I now have great empathy on a scale that probably wouldn't have hit me till a later point in my life. Although it was never easy, I'm grateful to have been through such testing times as these kind of hurdles put me in touch with very difficult emotions from a young age. I know that my illness has allowed me to relate and be courteous towards others of any age who may be struggling, for the rest of my existence. I'm sure many with chronic illness feel this way too. It's a strange limbo, weirdly all that causes the intense feeling of grief is actually teaching you one of the biggest learning curves mentally, in your life. You become stronger and wiser in the long run. A case of the good with the bad, if you can really look for the positive in the situation.

Moving on with life after grief is a difficult obstacle within illness. You can't physically change the way in which your health or illness declines, this is obviously something that we learn to accept will usually be at its own peril. This affects your day to day chance of "living" so engaging or creating an active lifestyle or social life to divert your mind is always going to be a more challenging step. Find the things that make you happy and that you feel are manageable within your circumstances. Aimlessly spending your day in bed when all you want to be doing is working hard,mixing socially and living is a hard cross to bear. You lack structure and routine in chronic illness however when you go through typical grief in life, keeping your normality is something that is pressured to be vital. Illness is very unpredictable and most of us are housebound, no two days are the same but one thing that is certain is pain. It's hard to find your new outlet of structure. There doesn't seem as many outlets to distract and divert your attention in illness, going out becomes increasingly difficult so you feel at a loss. A focus is good, even if you can't leave the house try to think of something you may find enjoyment in.

I think goal setting is something that is helpful in grief. Clinging on to hope of unattainable dreams, although at the start is something I may have attained to get back too, I no longer found suitable once I was confirmed disabled and chronically ill. I felt like it was holding me back more because I was pondering over what could be. I even found this dragged down my mental state. It is really sad to leave behind goals and dreams but I instead now want to focus on building adapted dreams or small goals. I am determined to find a new calling in life so to speak. As difficult as it may seem, try to find a new goal you can work towards with your disability, that is still in your heart but seems more achievable. Its always good to have a goal in life to work towards, the key in disability is making sure it's attainable and not impossible for your strengths and weaknesses.

You have your own individual battle with acceptance, adjustment and grief. You can feel these emotions for as long as you wish if that's what helps you overcome and accept your current position with chronic illness. It will always be highly valid in your journey, because it is an intensity of emotions and frustration from a significant loss in your life. I still deal with my grief. It's something I have accepted that will be a figure that swoops in often and when it pleases. It usually comes and goes during darker periods with my illness. I'm no longer frightened of this feeling as I know I'm entitled to feel this way. I know that the reasons I have these overwhelming surges are stemmed from illness and I deal with them as and when they arrive. Something that really helped me was knowing that the majority of others with chronic illness felt like this too, however that is only something I learnt along the way.

I thought that writing this post would make me incredibly sad and tearful, however it is something I've dealt with for such a long time that I feel more accepting to its presence. I know I will always mourn for what could've been in life, however I also look forward to what I can make for my future and my happiness. There will always be down days and I am aware of that.

For a person to find themselves in this kind of situation is not easy .Even if you feel like the grief cycle isn't completely ending, you may notice that over time you can go for longer periods without these consuming feelings. Like I've said in my "finding a balance" post, it is also important to deal with what is happening right now rather than looking too far ahead. Only those who have been through chronic illness will understand the grieving process we go through to mourn what our lives once were. Grief is a normal and an important process of living, especially when it comes to dealing with chronic illness. Without grieving for your old life or the life you craved, you won't accept your new reality and move forward positively and in a stronger mental state to deal with the future hurdles of illness. Finding a new happiness with your adapted life and a fresh outlook, as difficult as it may seem is the only option to progress in acceptance of your new way of living.


  1. Such a great post! I can relate to everything you have said about grief, mourning the life you once had! Keep smilingxxx

  2. Great read! I have suffered with Gastroparesis since 2005 butbwasnt officially diagnosed until 2007. However, it is only recently in the last month after seeing a therapist that the depression and sadness was actually me grieving the loss of my old life. I am slowly trying to accept this life as my "new normal" and I am trying to find the balance of things I can and cannot do. I have also come to accept that not everyone is willing to understand what I am going through, but if they want to walk away from me that's okay too.

  3. Great read! I have suffered with Gastroparesis since 2005 butbwasnt officially diagnosed until 2007. However, it is only recently in the last month after seeing a therapist that the depression and sadness was actually me grieving the loss of my old life. I am slowly trying to accept this life as my "new normal" and I am trying to find the balance of things I can and cannot do. I have also come to accept that not everyone is willing to understand what I am going through, but if they want to walk away from me that's okay too.