I don’t know how many times I’ve written the words, “Chronic illness is unpredictable in how and when it will show up”. Each time I’m reminded of it, I shake my head in amazement. Because it’s so true.
I just celebrated my 60th birthday and a client (I’ll call her Laurie) was asking what I ‘d done. Describing the party we had with loving family and friends, I spoke of how great it felt to be healthy for it. But now, just 2 days later, I was experiencing symptoms – -some I’d never had before and some too familiar.
I rarely discuss my health challenges or how they affect me unless I think there’s a benefit. But this time, my frustration was bubbling on the surface and I shared my sadness. I described how the onset of pain and fatigue had taken the glow right off.
At that, Laurie started to cry and then talk — about her own anger and sadness in living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). She hadn’t spoken of this in the 8 months we’d worked together.
Turns out that Laurie had just come from her yearly performance review (she’s a paralegal). She’d been relatively healthy over the last year but recently, new pain made it difficult to use her dominant hand.
In her review, her boss said that she understood that Laurie was working as hard as she could and she appreciated that the work always got done. But her boss was having a tough time with the unpredictable nature of Laurie’s symptoms. Then her boss acknowledged that she knew she liked control and the unpredictable challenged her and made her irritable with Laurie.
Laurie got the yearly raise she’d received for the past 10 years at this job. But she left that meeting in a state of shock. She couldn’t believe that her boss had said these things to her and worried about her future at this law firm.
Laurie has lived with RA for 6 years. She needs this job to send her kids to college. She worries that if she loses this job, she won’t find another one. But she struggles daily with the pain, the unknown and all that living with chronic illness does to a person. There are days that she just wants to give up and not face other people and their disappointment in her — or her own.
How do you live with never knowing how you’re going to feel? Or how you’re going to manage in a situation?
There isn’t a blueprint nor easy tips and if someone tries to sell you that line, ignore it. But I can tell you from my own experience, it takes:
- vigilant self focus (without self absorption) so you notice what you’re experiencing so you can manage it,
- desire for self discovery and renewal so you continue to be resilient and live with hope,
- patience with yourself and others when you face disappointment.
I’ve also experienced in my work how imperative it is to have someone with whom you can talk. That person should challenge you to be more than you thought you could be — a therapist or a coach. That’s the best investment you can make in your health.