Chronic illness can have a devastating impact on your psychic well-being. No matter how agonizing the physical distress, the mental anguish can be more difficult for you to bear. Self-doubt, self-loathing, helplessness, powerlessness, anxiety and fear are some of the demons that people with fibromyalgia (FM) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) battle daily. Illness can wipe out self-confidence and peace, and in their place leave painful doubts about what is real. So what can you do?
Part 1, Feelings of Self-doubt
"Am I really sick? Am I imagining this? Am I weak? Did I cause this ... if I had eaten better, exercised more, been more positive, would I be well today?"
Anyone who begins each day awakened by pain is convinced that something is wrong with his or her body. But when a doctor can't find anything and the family members grow suspicious, it is difficult not to doubt yourself or to drop into depression.
Recognize your self-doubting, self-blaming thoughts quickly. We talk to ourselves all day long, often in a negative manner. Learn to talk to yourself as you would talk to a good friend. You have an illness and you did not cause your illness. You need comfort and understanding. You deserve such care even from yourself when you are feeling ill.
Also, express your need for understanding and validation to family members and friends - ones you trust will listen and be in your corner. A good support group can be helpful too.
There are four parts to this series. I have included the other three below.
“How can I look attractive when I am so dependent? Who wants to employ someone who might be ill all the time? Why can’t I beat this illness? If I had greater integrity, I wouldn’t be so incapacitated.”
Persistent self-doubt results in self-dislike. It’s difficult to feel self-respect and self-affirmation when, in addition to feeling ill, you are overwhelmed with constant misgivings about your condition. This is especially true when these inner doubts are further fueled by the skepticism of others.
Liking ourselves seems to be a goal for all people. For whatever reason, we all tend not to like ourselves. We are critical of our own bodies, our hair, our size. In an effort to overcome our self-dislike, we base our worth on things that we can do better than others – make more money, keep a perfect house, have more accomplishments.
Our worth is not based on who we are but on what we can do or what role we play. Illness usually undermines that foundation of worth. We just cannot do what we once were capable of doing.
You must learn to go deeper to appreciate your true self – someone who doesn’t always feel well. Know and accept your limits. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. Count your blessings and learn to appreciate what you have.
One person with chronic illness looks in the mirror every day and says ten positive, self-affirming things to herself, such as, “You are ill, but you have the courage to get up and do what you can.”
Try to love yourself as you love those dearest to you. It is not easy, but love starts at home with you accepting you.
Fear of Mental Illness
“Is this all in my head? If I were a more optimistic person, would I feel better? Am I neurotic or depressed? If I’m not sick, am I crazy?”
Possibly no fear is as harrowing as the fear of insanity. Loss of control is frightening; loss of mental control is terrifying. Our mind is our sense of ourselves and gives us our understanding of the world around us. To lose our minds is to lose connection with ourselves and communication with everyone and everything else. Images of what we would be like without our mental faculties are chilling images of blubbering, incoherent, incontinent unfortunates. Any threat then to our sanity is a dire threat to our well-being.
When you feel ill, horribly ill, yet the doctors cannot find anything wrong, when they suggest the cause is stress or imagined or mental, it is very difficult to keep trusting your own experience. Most likely you have endured the horrors of the diagnostic ordeals that you were put through, but your battles may not be over. New symptoms can crop up at any time, and you need to rely upon your instincts to determine if they are just FM/CFS-related, or if they require additional medical attention.
How do you ward off the fear of mental illness? You do this by trusting yourself and by accepting your illness. Learn more about your illness and its symptoms. Talk to others who share your condition and who experience similar symptoms (use our discussion board). Don't allow prejudicial messages from family members and from doctors to cause you to think that you are imagining your illness. Your fibro is REAL. Find a doctor who understands and who will work with you in finding what therapies are good for you. Above all, don't doubt yourself. No one knows your body as well as you do.
Giving in to Illness – Or Giving Up
“How do I fight such an illness? What’s the use? Maybe if I get even sicker, people will see that I really am suffering. Maybe I should let myself go and really look sick. I would rather die than face this for the rest of my life.”
We all occasionally feel sorry for ourselves. But self-pity is not attractive; nor is it conducive to a healthy mind set. Feeling sorry for yourself fosters self-absorption and its consequent behaviors: complaining, petulance, demands for service and attention. This leads to loneliness and sadness.
When we stop trying to cope with our illness, to understand it, to deal with it as courageously as we can, then the illness can crush our spirit. Living with chronic illness is a soul-sized battle. If the flu can momentarily flatten us, chronic flu-like symptoms can be devastating! Excruciating pain and indescribable exhaustion both seem like torture. The men and women besieged by chronic illness need all the support of their spirits and all of the inspiring support of those who know and love them.
How do you keep up the fight? Take one day at a time. Get up right away in the morning. Don’t lie in bed and think hopeless thoughts. Live today, doing what you can, not letting yourself worry about what you might not be able to do tomorrow. Be thankful for what you have rather than think of what you have not. Strive for the courage to accept your illness with dignity – not denying it. Care for yourself wisely and care for others generously. Enjoy beauty wherever you find it.
It's nice to know that there are people on your side when you're feeling down and to know that how you feel is NOT your fault. I was feeling a bit down earlier because I started vomiting again but it's not my fault. I am tired of thinking that this is my fault. It's important for anyone with a chronic illness to remember that, no matter what you're told.