November 27, 2015
I know you’ve heard the sayings “chin up, don’t cry, you’re fine…” but sometimes you just need to give in and know that it’s okay to be sad, especially when dealing with a chronic illness like lupus.
Society treasures strength in people, and strength is a beautiful thing. However, strength is often misconstrued since it can be viewed as having a lack of negative emotions and vulnerability. True strength is showing your vulnerability by being transparent about what you’re feeling. It takes strength to put yourself out there and express what you are going through, and it takes strength to ask for help when you need it.
Having a chronic illness is difficult, and if you don’t allow yourself to truly “feel” and process your negative emotions you will only add fuel to the fire of symptoms you are already experiencing. It is a proven fact that both emotional and physical stress exacerbates lupus symptoms. Your lupus won’t discriminate, and these negative emotions will eventually manifest into physical symptoms that can possibly cause a flare.
A natural reaction to painful experiences or circumstances is sadness. You’re human; sadness is normal so you shouldn’t have to explain or justify your feelings about having a chronic illness. Your feelings are just that- your feelings. It is important to own them and really “feel” them as a means of processing and releasing these toxic emotions that can build up and manifest physically.
Crying is actually a very healthy way of releasing pent up negative feelings that can make you sick. It’s okay to have a pity party for yourself once in a while. It is a grieving process especially when you’re first diagnosed. It’s okay to mourn the person you once were and the life you had planned before you got sick.
Allow yourself to have a sad day. Lay in bed, cry, get angry, grieve… allow the feelings to flow and don’t feel guilty about it. Let your loved ones know that you need a “sad” day so you can grieve.
Own your feelings, process them, release them but then focus on the hope of a better life because it is possible, even with a chronic illness. You have a life to live and experience. Go outside. Go for a drive, see that there is a world outside of you and that you are still a part of it. It is so easy to get stuck in your head which then leads you to focus on all that is lacking.
It is also important to recognize when the symptoms of sadness turn into depression. When sadness lingers for days/weeks/months it is important to realize that you may be depressed. Symptoms of depression which include: hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt, insomnia, oversleeping, weight loss/gain, loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, and thoughts of wanting to die/suicidal thoughts. These are all signs and symptoms that you may be depressed, and it is hard to pull yourself out of depression alone.
Tell your doctor, seek the help of a counselor or support group, and find support in your family and friends. The important thing is to know that you are not alone and that these feelings are normal. It’s actually NOT normal to NOT experience these feelings when living with a chronic illness.
I’ve had lupus over 30 years now, and when I was in my late teens and twenties I was very ill and almost died, more than once. I’ve had over 20 surgeries including hip replacements and revisions, 39 treatments of chemo-therapy and a kidney transplant. The reason I am telling you this is because I struggle with depression and anxiety and it’s okay. My lupus has been severe, and it has been a very long road and I have to say that the emotional side is much more difficult than dealing with the physical side of having a chronic illness. It’s not easy but I do the best I can each day. I’ve learned that when I stuff the feelings inside, I end up in more pain and my symptoms become even worse.
I’ve hit rock bottom so many times that I’ve lost count. There were times my faith was smaller than a mustard seed but I had a willingness to know that I do have hope.
Take life day by day and know that all you need is just the slightest bit of willingness to know that there actually is hope and your life can improve. Close your eyes and visualize what you want your life to look like and how you want to feel. Our minds are so powerful, and I am living proof that focusing on your goal of being healthy and letting go of “how” it will happen can lead to a better life. Believe me, if I can reach this point then anyone can. Allow yourself to be sad once in a while; it’s all part of the process. And then trust that there is hope for a better life!
Written by Bridget Hood, Lupus LA Board Member & Co-Facilitator of the Irvine Support Group