Mourning the Loss of a Life Once Had

By Jennifer Martin, PsyD, Columnist

Being diagnosed with a chronic condition is a loss.  In fact, it is comprised of many losses. 

It may be a loss of the person we used to be.

It may mean a loss of independence.

It may mean a loss of dreams and goals.

It may mean a loss of some of the people in our lives who we thought were close.

It is the loss of the life we once had.

For many of us with chronic conditions, living with pain or illness means daily medications, injections, surgery, physical therapy, and weekly or monthly doctor appointments.  Not to mention living with constant pain. 

These are things we could never have dreamed of before our diagnosis. We are forced into a life-long journey that is strange, painful and full of new challenges.

We now need to try to figure out how to help our family and friends understand what we are going through, while we ourselves try to decipher what it means for our future.  We need to figure out how to balance work, family, kids, taking care of a home, and hobbies – all now with pain, fatigue and frustration. 

Often times, depression and anxiety step in when we realize that the life we once had is now gone and that our future is filled with the unknown.  The mourning process begins.

It is important at this point to allow ourselves to experience the mourning process.  There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to grief and mourning.  Cry, scream, and yell if you have to.  Talk to a friend or therapist if it would help.  Start journaling.  Write a letter to your pain and rip it up or burn it.  It doesn’t matter what you do -- just do something!  And then, at some point, it is important to try and live a new normal.

Finding a new normal means weaving our way, however slowly, through the new challenges we face daily.  Do some research and find a great doctor who you trust.  Research the medications you are being prescribed.  Find what works for you, whether it’s hot/cold packs, a heating pad, medications, rest, a support group, yoga, acupuncture, meditation, or light exercise.

Plan for the future as best you can:  Set new goals and make a plan to reach them.  Do what you can each day.  Talk with your family and friends about what you need from them and work on being comfortable accepting help.

Having a chronic condition, however painful, uncomfortable, horrible, scary and unfair, doesn’t mean you can’t be happy again.  But in order to be happy it is important to mourn the loss of who you were and slowly put the pieces of your puzzle back together.

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.