Inadequate. Weak. Unworthy. Useless. These are just a few of the adjectives that describe emotions we may feel when we are chronically ill or experiencing chronic pain.
It’s not difficult to understand why our chronic illness makes us feel useless, or at minimum “less than”. After all, we’ve fallen headlong into the fiendish snare of defining ourselves – at least in part – by what we do. It doesn’t matter if those things are related to what we “do” for a living or what we do for pleasure.
But it doesn’t have to be this way! Read on for a fail-safe approach to living forward despite your illness.
Losing the ability to live in keeping with the expectations we have of ourselves upends our world and our sense of our place within it.
Inevitably, at some point most of us find that we stand squarely at the intersection of “I’ll Fake It Until I Make It!” and “Okay, Something’s Got to Give.”
If you’ve tried to fake being well, you’ve probably concluded that the price is way too high, and the return on investment isn’t nearly high enough.
If you’ve conceded that something has to give, take a moment to applaud yourself. Because you’ve admitted one of the honest truths about chronic illness: it requires you to reframe how you view your yourself and how you live your life.
The real reason why you feel inadequate
News flash: when your chronic illness makes you feel useless, inadequate or unworthy, it’s not because you are any of those things. And wanting to be healthy doesn’t mean you’re being selfish, either.
It’s because each of us feels that we have a purpose, and that purpose is what inspires us to take action.
We take care of our families, participate in our communities and share and develop our talents in the workplace. And of course, we know we need to take care of ourselves – mind, body and spirit.
And when we are forced to acknowledge that we can’t easily do those things in the way that we did before we struggle with questions that we can’t answer:
Why did this happen to me?
What if I never get any better?
Why bother trying?
Be careful. If you’re like me, you start to create answers and visualize scenarios that reinforce your sense of powerlessness.
I must have done something to deserve this.
No one should have to take care of me – I’m a burden.
Even a “good” day isn’t very good!
Believe me when I say that it doesn’t have to be this way.
No-Fail Fixes for when your chronic illness makes you feel useless
Feel sorry for yourself (it’s okay)!
Why wouldn’t it be?!
Chronic diseases and chronic pain are complicated. Difficult to diagnose, difficult to treat and difficult to cope with physically and emotionally.
After all, it’s not as though a course of antibiotics or short-term bed rest are going to cure what ails you.
We all know people who have faced some very serious, life-changing events. And we feel sorry for them.
Why? Because we empathize with them.
We may try to imagine what it might feel like to face the situation they are facing. We may feel grief, helplessness, even anger.
Who would we be if we didn’t – or couldn’t – feel those emotions?
Let yourself feel whatever you feel. It’s perfectly fine to feel sorry for yourself because it means that you are acknowledging what has happened or is happening to you.
You can’t fix what you can’t face.
The trick is not to stay there too long.
Be clear about why your chronic illness makes you feel useless or unworthy
Get specific. Write it down. List all the emotions that accompany your “whys”:
- I’m inadequate because I can’t work full-time anymore. I’m sad because I loved my job and I’m worried about financial security.
- I feel useless around the house because the simplest chores are exhausting, and I am afraid that my family will resent me because I can’t do everything I used to. What if they think I am a burden?
- I am missing out on life because I’m too physically weak or fatigued to travel or do physical activities. It makes me feel angry that other people take their good health for granted and have no idea how much I struggle.
Allow yourself to process what you feel. Say it out loud or write it down. Give yourself a time limit.
The goal is to be real with yourself and recognize the raw emotions – not to wallow in them for too long.
Talk to someone about how you feel
Choose wisely. It’s okay to want to vent and have someone hear you out without offering a solution.
It’s also perfectly fine to ask others how they have coped with feelings of inadequacy because of their chronic illness.
If you’re not part of a support group, please consider joining one. The beauty of an on-line support group is that you can be as visible or invisible as you’d like.
I’ve found that sometimes I’m more inclined to participate, and at other times I’m more comfortable reading others posts and comments. And sometimes I need to step away from all of it for a week or so.
Whatever approach you take, your goal is to be inspired to take some action that will help you move in the right direction.
One of the biggest challenges of being chronically ill is that we need to rethink our ideas of progress or achievement and acknowledge that small steps can be big victories.
I’m one of those people who still appreciates a wall calendar. And there’s a date that stands out in my mind because it marks two things: what was, at the time, a monumental achievement; and what has come to be a reminder of how far I’ve come since I was diagnosed with myositis in 2018.
It was December 1. But the wall calendar still displayed October. I had spent the last half of October in the hospital, and when I returned home I was barely able to function. My muscles were extremely weak, I struggled to breathe and I could barely lift my arms.
By the time November came to a close I was making some progress, but it was painfully slow. I decided it was time to change the calendar to December. You’re probably wondering how difficult it could possibly be to lift the page of a calendar hanging on the wall.
I’m here to assure you that for me, it was a monumental task.
I’m not sure how long it took me to commandeer enough strength, flexibility and balance to separate the page, flip it to the new month, and secure it to the small nail on the wall. It was exhausting, but I did it.
It wasn’t the sort of thing I shared with anyone else. Who would understand? But I understood – and it meant that I was making progress and that I was damned determined to do something.
Don’t discount these small victories.
Celebrate your grit and resilience.
You don’t have to hit a home run. String together a few base hits – you’ll still score the run.
I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.Edward Everett Hale
Don’t go to sleep without reflecting on what you were thankful for that day.
Sunshine? A good book? A phone call from a close friend? A delicious meal? Hearing your children laugh?
I could go on – I’ve found so much to be grateful for.
Recognize that even when you are questioning your own value or purpose, other people need you. The world needs you.
About a month after my diagnosis, a friend of mine’s fiance lost his job. She asked if I could help him update his resume. I struggled more than anyone would ever know.
While my brain worked fine, I was fatigued, my fingers were weak, and my medication made me dizzy. It took far longer to rewrite the resume than I would have ever imagined.
But being asked to do a favor, was a gift in itself. Someone needed me, and I knew that I could help them.
So, while you’re recalling the small blessings that in the past may have gone unnoticed, realize that you are one of them.