The mental pain of chronic illness
Written on June 15, 2014 by Daniel P. Malito
Image by Hyperbole and a Half http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/
I didn’t want to write this blog. Yup, you read that right, I didn’t want to write this installment of everyone’s ridiculously-titled blog, Dan’s Du Journal. In fact, I even missed the deadline because I was so not feeling things this week. Fortunately, thanks to my generously tolerant editor, I was able to sneak in this post after all.
Please don’t think I’d ever leave you hanging, my faithful readers, without due cause. You see, lately I haven’t been feeling so well, and that really starts to take a toll on both my physical and mental health. This is a phenomenon that many of us who are ill share, but those who are not sick might not understand. Sure, the physical aspects of disease can be horrible, but it’s the mental part that sometimes becomes the most crippling.
As some of you may remember, I am currently in the process of lowering my steroid dose, one small bit at a time. Since my body has been provided corticosteroids for years, it has since stopping making the cure-all substance on its own. So, as I wean myself off to give my system time to re-start its production line, I deal with the physical consequences of such a monumental task. Yes, it makes all my joints hurt and, yes, it hits me with extreme fatigue and a ton of various aches and pains that have no apparent cause, but I’m used to dealing with stuff like that. I have been taking narcotic medication for years, and, in addition, my tolerance for pain is off the charts. This isn’t the biggest problem, though.
The thing that really gets you in the end when you have a chronic illness is the lack of desire. Lack of desire to get out of bed, lack of desire to do your work, lack of desire to go outside, and even lack of desire to socialize. Everyone who is ill reaches a certain point, and it’s different for all of us, when we decide that it’s just too much of a hassle to do anything besides sit. Ironically, it usually happens when you can least afford to lose a day or three to sloth. When you have the most work to do, or when you have a weekend with all three days scheduled for dinner-dates, that’s when you usually feel most like doing nothing at all.
I wish that I could say that this feeling of apathy is directly related to the amount of pain I’m having at the time, but it isn’t really. Yes, it happens more often when I am feeling pain all over, but there are also days when I just have a vague malaise plaguing me, and I still don’t want to leave the house. It’s an insidious enemy of progress, and it seems to be happening more and more lately. Whether I’m getting older and more fragile, or I’m just less tolerant than I used to be, I’m not sure, but the result is the same, I’m finding it harder and harder to get up and do the things I have to do.
I know that I’m supposed to put up a brave front and be the good little warrior that everyone expects me to be, but I find myself using the excuse “I’ll do it tomorrow,” more than I should. Unfortunately, the tomorrow in which I actually get some work done never quite seems to come, even when I wake up with the best of intentions. I can plan to work for the entire day, but I’m so lethargic that I usually don’t get into gear until the late afternoon, and by then, I’m usually more interested in what’s for dinner than what’s on my to do list. It weighs on me heavily, too. I’m supposed to be helping Allison build a life for us by finishing my books and attempting to find a publisher for my next release, and every day that it doesn’t get done is a dagger in my heart as I watch her go off to work every morning. She never complains or calls me out for it, either, and that means everything to me.
So, for now, I do my best to combat the apathy with the only tools I have. I try to go to bed early, I keep away from Netflix TV shows, and I tell myself that I have to pull my weight. I plan out a schedule the night before of the things I have to do, and I set aside time to write each and every day, even if it’s only an hour. I also tell myself that if I get at least one task done every day, then I can look at myself in the mirror without feeling worthless. I have no idea if this is a quality gauge of daily diligence, but it’s the one I’m using right now, so it’ll have to do.
Dealing with the physical pain of chronic illness is a trial like no other, for sure, but it’s the mental pain that will sneak up on you and kick you when you’re down. Apathy, carelessness, crankiness and angering quickly are all symptoms of the mental effects of chronic illness. Try your best to be vigilant and watch for any signs of these easy-to-slip-into mental states. Take a deep breath, realize you are probably reacting to your disease, and fight through it like you would physical pain. It’s not a great solution, but it’s the best we got. Now LEAVE ME ALONE!