Last month we highlighted how a chronic disease can impact relationships. When we have a chronic disease we find ourselves grieving for the loss of health, freedom and/or relationships. Grieving has been defined as "facing and releasing our emotions." It has also been said that "emotions are the language of the heart." Grief uncorks all the emotions and one of them is anger.
One aspect of the anger can be described as a protest about the unfairness of the disease and how it has changed our lives. We feel that it is unfair that the disease invaded our lives and restricted us from doing the things we used to enjoy. It is unfair that we are confined to a bed, to our home or hospital while everyone else can go about life the way they desire.
We grieve for the loss of our freedom and for the old life that we once had. Our lives are different now, and that calls for a major adjustment. We are having to adjust to the pain, the restrictions, the isolation and sometimes the monotony. One major adjustment has to do with how people are treating us differently. A friend of mine who was struggling with cancer said, "People are treating me like I can't do anything for myself. It is like I have a big "C" on my forehead. Even my husband treats me differently. It makes me feel uncomfortable. I wish they would treat me like they did before." She made an important point to remember when we are dealing with a chronic illness. Don't let the disease define who you are or your loved one. If we define ourselves as a disease, the danger is that we can stop living. We are a person first, who happens to be dealing with a disease. We label things, not people.
One of the most disturbing challenges is the emotional roller coaster ride between hope and hopelessness, between being up and being down. Sometimes, the medicine works and then sometimes it doesn't. The side effects of the medication and the treatment can be as painful as the disease itself. We experience the emotional roller coaster ride each time we go for a doctor's visit - holding our breath for fear of hearing more bad news.
We experience anger by blaming ourselves for not taking better care of ourselves. We may struggle with why didn't we take time for exercise, eat better, go to the doctor earlier, stop bad habits, lose weight, and the list goes on. We "what if" ourselves. As a caregiver, we may be angry with the patient for the same reasons. We may blame the hospital and doctors because we believe they missed something or did not give the proper attention that we believed the patient needed. Next month we will continue dealing with the struggles that a chronic illness creates and explore ways to handle what we are experiencing.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700