By Jennifer Martin, Columnist
I remember very vividly the day I first began thinking about how much my body has betrayed me. It wasn’t too long after I got home from spending nearly six weeks in the hospital. I was recovering from my first j-pouch surgery.
I was sitting on the couch at my mother and stepfather’s house, feeling depressed, weak and hopeless. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. These were emotions I had not experienced to this extent before; even after the years of ups and downs I had had living with rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis.
I remember my mom telling me, “You need to work through these feelings of depression. We need to get you out of the house. Staying inside all day isn’t going to help. Let’s go to the harbor so you can at least sit outside and be around people.”
My husband told me, “You need to fight. I can’t fight for you if you are going to give up.”
My stepdad said to me, “You are strong. I know you can get through this. We are all here for you.”
While I appreciated all of these sentiments, all I wanted to do was scream at them, “You have no idea what I need! I am not strong! I don’t want to do this anymore!”
And I wanted to scream at my body, “How could you do this to me? Why are you doing this to me?”
I had never felt so lost and confused. And I had never felt so betrayed by my own body, which at the time struck me as odd, seeing as I had been living with chronic illness and pain my whole life.
What I eventually learned from that horrible day was that my family was right. The only way you can begin to resolve these feelings of body betrayal is to do something about it; to learn to cope with your chronic pain or chronic illness, even if you don’t want to.
Trust me, the last thing I wanted to do that day was to go out in public looking as sick as I did and feeling like I was about to collapse. I had no idea how I was even supposed to make it from the car to the nearest bench to sit down. But I did, and while I’m not going to claim that it fixed everything, it did help my mood somewhat.
At that time I was angry at my husband because I felt like he was putting a lot of pressure on me. I felt like in order to fight I had to put on a happy face all of the time and that I was not allowed to experience my pain or sorrow in front of him.
After giving what he said some thought however, I realized what he meant. He didn’t mean that I was never allowed to feel sorry for myself and he didn’t mean that I was never allowed to complain or cry.
What he meant was that I was the only one who had control over how I dealt with my situation and the upcoming struggles I was still to have. I could either give in and give up or I could find a way to work through what I was going through. He couldn’t do that for me.
I remember wanting to tell my stepdad that I felt the complete opposite of strong. I also remember feeling guilty for the support my family was giving me. I felt like a burden and I didn’t want them to give up so much just for me. It didn’t feel fair and it didn’t feel right that just because I was going through something so terrible they had to go through it with me.
Looking back on my experience, I realize how lucky I was and still am to have that kind of support. It is so important for those experiencing chronic pain or chronic illness to have a support system, whether it is one friend, a support group or a whole clan of people.
I have learned that all you can do in those moments when you feel your body has betrayed you is do what you can. We don’t have control over the chronicity of our conditions. However, as much as it doesn’t seem like it at times, we do have control over how we choose to approach our condition.
We can learn to cope by:
- participating in enjoyable activities when we feel well
- advocating for our health
- taking our medications
- getting help when we feel depressed or anxious
- exercising when we have the energy and aren’t in too much pain
- making sure we aren’t isolating ourselves from friends and family
- resting when we do not feel well
- focusing on the positive things in our lives
- learning to manage the guilt we may feel
We can give in to all of the negative thoughts, or we can learn how to combat negative thinking.
We can let our pain or illness define us or we can learn how not to let that happen.
We can give in and give up, or we can fight.
Jennifer Martin, PsyD, is a licensed psychologist in Newport Beach, California who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis. In her blog “Your Color Looks Good” Jennifer writes about the psychological aspects of dealing with chronic pain and illness.
Jennifer is a professional member of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America and has a Facebook page dedicated to providing support and information to people with Crohn’s, Colitis and Digestive Diseases, as well as other types of chronic pain.
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.