When you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness, you may feel as if you’ve lost control over your future. The stress of learning to deal with doctors and specialists, coping with physical changes, and managing daily life can often lead to excessive worry or stress. Researchers have found that experiencing a chronic illness puts a person at increased risk for developing anxiety or an anxiety disorder. Roughly 40% of people with cancer report experiencing psychological distress that often takes the shape of excessive worry or panic attacks.* People with ongoing, or chronic pain are three times more likely to develop symptoms of anxiety.**
The daily demands of living with a chronic illness continues to present challenges and generate anxiety long after the diagnosis has been given. Loss of mobility or other abilities can lead to worry about employment or financial concerns. Depending on others, worrying about becoming a burden or even intimacy with your partner may also be concerns. Some people are more easily able to adapt to the changes in their lives. Others may feel overwhelmed with anxiety and struggle to cope. Still others may be in limbo, unable to make decisions about their future.
The Most Common Anxiety Disorders are:
1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) involves excessive and uncontrollable worry about everyday things, such as health, money or work. It is accompanied by physical symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, fatigue and difficulty sleeping or concentrating. 2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) entails persistent, recurring thoughts (obsessions) that reflect exaggerated anxiety or fears. Someone with OCD often will practice repetitive behaviors or rituals (compulsions). For instance, obsessing about germs may lead someone with OCD to compulsively washing hands—perhaps 50 times or more per day. 3. Panic Disorder includes severe attacks of terror or sudden rushes of intense anxiety and discomfort. Symptoms can mimic those found in heart disease, respiratory problems or thyroid problems, and individuals often fear they are dying, having a heart attack or about to faint. The symptoms experienced during a panic attack are real and overwhelming, but not life threatening. 4. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can follow exposure to a traumatic event, such as a car accident, rape, a terrorist attack or other violence. Symptoms include reliving the traumatic event, avoidance, detachment or difficulty sleeping and concentrating. Though it is commonly associated with veterans, any traumatic event can trigger PTSD. 5. Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is characterized by extreme anxiety about being judged by others or behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or ridicule. People who have SAD have what feels like exaggerated stage fright all the time. SAD is also called social phobia.
Specific phobias are intense fear reactions that lead a person to avoid specific objects, places or situations, such as flying, heights or highway driving. The level of fear is excessive and unreasonable. Although the person with a phobia recognizes the fear as being irrational, even simply thinking about it can cause extreme anxiety. I personally am terrified of the Dentist, even though they treat me gently and with compassion. I have to take medication to help relax me in order to go for a simple cleaning.
Fortunately, anxiety is treatable with therapy, medication and complementary and alternative treatments (i.e. acupuncture, massage therapy, ). But when the focus is on the chronic illness, anxiety is often overlooked. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about your emotional and cognitive health, and to speak up when you experience signs of anxiety.
Emotional symptoms of anxiety include:
Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed
Physical symptoms of anxiety include:
Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
Aches, pains, and tense muscles
Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
Frequent colds and infections
Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet
Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
Clenched jaw and grinding teeth
Cognitive symptoms of stress include:
Forgetfulness and disorganization
Inability to focus
Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side
What You Can Do
Challenge negative thinking. When you’re anxious, your brain may jump to conclusions, assume the worst, or exaggerate. Catastrophizing and ignoring the positives in your life may occur when you live with the challenges of a chronic illness. One way to manage anxiety is by being aware of the negative thinking, examining it and challenge the irrational thoughts. Counselors/therapists can play an important role in teaching you this important coping skill.
Calm your mind. Relaxation techniques can be an effective way to calm anxious thinking and direct your mind to a more positive place. Consider whether mindfulness meditation, yoga, or other breathing and focusing practices can still your body. Taking time to relax, increases your ability to think objectively and positively when it comes to making choices about your health and life.
Find a good Doctor. If you take medication for both mental and for physical health, it’s important to that your doctors are aware of all your medications. Some medications may actually escalate anxiety, so it’s essential to work with a prescriber who can make informed choices that address both conditions without worsening either.
Find a support group. Managing a chronic illness can be a lonely job as it may be difficult for loved ones to understand the unique challenges. Support groups, whether online or in person are wonderful for creating community but also for providing information that can help reduce worry. They can also connect you to valuable resources for treating your illness.
Acknowledge successes. Anxious thinking about chronic illness can keep you from feeling that you have control over anything in life. It’s important to acknowledge all successes, both big and small. Keep track of the healthy things you do for your mind and body. Exercising, going to counseling, spending time with a friend–these can all help. Keeping these successes at the front of your mind can help you combat worry. They can remind you that you do have the power to affect your present and future.
If you think that you might have anxiety in addition to chronic illness, be honest with your doctor. Ask for help. Anxiety is highly treatable, so remember…
The following statement was made by a fellow poster and I want to address the subject. Here is what she wrote:
“I am living in constant pain, can’t sleep and often feel very low. Thoughts of not existing often creep into my head.”
Now, there is often a difference between wanting to commit suicide and simply not wanting to exist any longer. Wanting to commit suicide is a deliberate act that you want to take because you are in so much pain, you simply can’t bear to be a part of this world any longer. Thoughts of no longer existing are different. It’s not so much that you want to die, it’s just that if you didn’t wake up in the morning, you’d be okay with that.
Fibromyalgia and Chronic or Intractable Pain is a Life Sentence for the person who has to live with it. Imagine for a moment that everything in your life suddenly changes. You can’t work, you can’t go out to parties or outings with your friends. You have to give up your hobbies and all the things you enjoy. You can’t spend time with your family or friends or loved ones because you are in so much pain and are so exhausted every day, all you want to do is be in bed sleeping. Depression seeps in…you have nothing left to live for. Everything you’ve loved in life has been taken away from you. Why should you bother being alive…what’s the point? Every day is exactly the same as the next…pain and exhaustion, exhaustion and pain. There’s nothing positive to look forward to, so why bother? It would be a relief to just not wake up in the morning.
To just not wake up in the morning.
These are the type of dark thoughts that can creep into the minds of people who live with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain. It’s important to find purpose in a life that has radically changed so you don’t find yourself sliding into this dark hole. Here are some suggestions that may help you find that purpose in your life.
Finding Your Faith
If you are a person of Faith, you may be wondering where God is in all of this. You may be feeling abandoned by God or feeling like you’re having to go it alone. Please know that God hasn’t left you at all, but perhaps you’ve left God. Now more than ever is the time to reach out to Him and to immerse yourself in the Bible. Read about Job again and all that he went through, and remind yourself how God didn’t abandon him and how He won’t leave you either. Now might be the time to start listening to some Christian music that helps you reconnect with your faith. If you engage in a different religion, you can reconnect to the ceremonies that enrich you from those practices.
If you are not Religious, but are Spiritual, there may be rituals of comfort that you’ve moved away from and it may be time to implement them again. Meditation, chanting, incense, sage, singing bowls, whatever you find comfort in – bring them back into your life.
Moving In Comfort
Often when we are in Chronic Pain, we forget that exercise is actually beneficial to us, both physically and mentally. Gentle exercise offers benefits to our body such as delaying muscle atrophy, increasing strength, and creating an environment to help us heal. Although exercise may hurt, it’s not causing us further harm and will inevitably help strengthen the core muscles, which benefit the entire body. Walking, swimming, Aquafit and bicycling are all good starts, even for just a few minutes a day. This post can help you with more detailed information. The bonus is the better you feel physically, the better you feel mentally.
It’s often been said that the more we give to others, the more we get in return. Volunteering is such an example. Mention volunteering to people who live with Chronic Pain, and the first thing they say is “oh no, I’m much to sick to volunteer”. Stop for a moment though, and think about it. You have the lived experience of a Patient and could be the perfect Patient Advocate for Healthcare Partners in your area. If there isn’t a dedicated organization where you live already doing this, call your local hospitals and ask if they ever need Patient Partners for their Health Care Initiatives. The same goes for the big medical organizations in the area…The Cancer Society, The MS Society, The Diabetes Association…and the list goes on. If you live with a health condition beyond Fibromyalgia, call your Organization and see if they need volunteers. You can specify the type of work you can do, and the hours you are available. Giving back fills a huge need in the community and in your own life.
Spend Time With Loved Ones Again
As awful as you may feel, cutting yourself off from family and friends actually makes you feel worse. Try to find times where you can get together with loved ones, even if it’s for shorter amounts of time. Have a coffee time in the evening instead of a longer drawn out dinner. Join a friend for lunch. Chat on the phone or via Skype and stay in your Pajamas! People want to spend time with you, they don’t care what you’re wearing. The ones who truly love you will understand the circumstances – the ones who don’t really don’t matter much, do they?
Finding purpose in life can help lift you from the darkness you may be encountering because of your Chronic pain. It is possible for you to find joy again, even in the simple things. I’d like to leave you with a list of 20 of my top items that bring joy – taken from a previous post I’ve written called That Which Brings Me Joy.
Mental Health Advocates Share How To Prevent Suicide in 60 Seconds
What would you say if you had 60 seconds to talk a stranger out of taking his or her life?
I was flipping through my new SoulPancake book when this question jumped off the page.
What would you say if you had 60 seconds to talk a stranger out of taking his or her life?
I froze and my mind went blank. This can happen in my lifetime and I didn’t know what I would say.
So for this National Suicide Awareness Week, I’ve asked some mental health advocates to answer this question.
I hope you will never need the suggested responses and tips below. But if it happens, may they help you save a life.
Here’s What They Shared
“The pain you are feeling must feel overwhelming but If you live another day I will show you that life can be better than what you are living.” — Saaim Ali
“I can’t promise you it gets better. I won’t tell you sunny platitudes or promise you rainbows.
What I will do is ask you stay, because you’ll never know what’s ahead if you don’t.
I will do my best to help you look for the rainbows and walk in the rain with you until you can, because I’ve been there, too.” — Selena Marie Wilson
“What you’re considering doing is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Whatever it is — I promise to help you to resolve it — but we can’t do that if you’re dead.” — Kathy Reagan Young
“ I have been where you are. I know it feels like there is no other way out, but there is hope. People care, I care. Take my hand, I will walk with you through this. Your loved one will be lost without you. One step at a time, one minute at a time. We can do this together. You are not alone.” — Crystal Fretz
“I’ve been there, and I just want you to know that even though it doesn’t seem like it right now, at this very moment, there is hope. You are loved. If you can’t think of a single person who loves you, know that God loves you. I love you because you are a beautiful creation of God. I’ll go with you to find help. I’ll stay with you until you feel safe. You are not alone.” (coupled with questions about the person and things they like/dislike, points we may have in common, and non-threatening body language — adopt the same gestures they use, sit and or stand in the same posture — mirror them so that they can feel the empathy and love). — Anita Ojeda
“There’s a whole bright, beautiful world that needs your spirit in it. It feels dark, lonely, and hopeless right now, but it’s not. There’s help for you, there are people who care about you, and you are so, so much more valuable than you realize. Let’s talk about what resources are available and which one you think will work for you, and I’ll help you make the call if you want. You’re not alone. I’m here to help you. It will get better.” — Olivia Sod
“Trust me I understand how you feel, I’ve been there myself. But hang in there. Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense, but just hang on. Hang on. Hang onto life.” — Sheryl
“A lot of times, people who commit suicide believe the people in their lives would be better off without them, so I’d tell them they wouldn’t and I know. My brother committed suicide and it was the worst thing I have ever experienced. I’d tell them there would be way more people than they realized that would be impacted by this choice and there were more people that cared about them and wanted to help than they realized.” — Rosanne
“As worthless and hopeless and terrible and dark as you feel, this isn’t the end of your story. You can have light and hope and worth and joy. Don’t make a permanent choice that will affect your family and friends long after you’re gone. They need you, whether you think they do or not. You need them, too. Cling to the life God’s given you, even if you have to hold on by your fingernails and it feels too hard. This isn’t the end of your story.” — Anna Huckabee
“Keep them talking basically. When it came down to it and my friend threatened to jump off a multi-storey car park, I told him that if needed I was going to rugby tackle him and sit on him until the police arrived and could restrain him properly (they were already on the way anyway). Probably not the most official way to deal with it but while doing it, it kept him focused on me and talking to me rather than the other things that were going on. My friend has since been diagnosed with a version of Bipolar rather than depression. Unfortunately, it took a number of years to get past the diagnosis of depression or stress.” — Hannah
“What can I do to help you? (And I would start to tell them about my mother and ex-boyfriend and how they took their own life and that it’s okay to ask for help.) Everyone needs some kind of help throughout life. Just let me try to help you.” — Chasa Fulkerson
“The pain you feel right now? If you allow it to end your life, the same pain will attack your family and closest friends because they will miss you. After you are gone, the pain will be allowed to grow bigger and bigger! Let’s fight this together now and end the pain, but keep your life. You DON’T want to suffer through all this darkness for nothing, do you? Because on the other side of this darkness, this grief, this pain is something worth living for joy and hope. Let’s find some of that for you! I have a list of great resources!” — Chris Moss
“Listen, I’ve been there too. Right where you are. 10 years ago. So much can change in the next year for you. Don’t convince yourself that there’s no hope. That’s a lie from the pit. You have a gift and worth and value, and the devil is trying to keep you from giving it to the world. God cares about you and loves you, and has plans for you for a purpose and good. It doesn’t matter what you’ve been through or done, there is hope for a happy and joyful life! Come with me. Please let me tell you my story.” — Abby Karbon
“This may be hard to hear right now but you are worth so much, just by being the only you in the world. You will be making a decision that you can not take back while going through emotions that will very well pass, even if it takes a little work. You are not alone, even if you feel like it. There are millions of people who feel just like you. Talk to me. I’m here to listen. I’ll never shut you down. You can trust me. I know what it’s like to feel like the world would be better off without you. Don’t listen to those negative thoughts. You are worthy and you will get through this.” — Cortney Kaczmarek
“You are needed. You are necessary. You are loved.” — Barbara Moore
“That life will be good again soon and that it’s an illness causing all the pain. They can get better and they can enjoy life once more they just need some help.” — Hazel Jackson
“Hey there, I know you don’t know me but I’m here and I care. Please just come, talk to me, let’s get a coffee and restart. You won’t be able to take this back. I get it but I also just want to know your story, I don’t want this to be an end to our conversation. All the things you are feeling must be overwhelming so let’s just calm down and breathe. We can talk when you’re ready.” — Emerson
“Being on the other end of it, I was told ‘it’s not worth it. This will pass and I will stay by your side and be there always.’ And that person to this day is still always by my side making sure I’m okay. And this was a few years ago. — Hailey Giambelluca
“You are loved. You are taking an easy way out, but what about the ones that love you? What about the ones that fight for/with you? We would be slowly dying inside if you were not here!” — Angel
“I can’t tell you what to do but I see you and I care. You’ll leave a hole in the universe that no one else can fill. This world is more meaningful with you in it. Please sit with me and tell me where it hurts. I’m listening.” — Emma Frances
“There is help out there. This solution you are considering is permanent. There is no coming back. You may feel you’ve tried everything, but there are specialists that can ease your suffering. There are many options available to you, and I will help you each step of the way. The symptom of suicidal ideation leads you to believe there’s no other hope. I can attest as someone who’s been in your shoes there is. And I’m glad I didn’t make that permanent choice. So please come with me and we can find help right now.” — Ben Barrett
“Give me your hand. Come closer. *if okay I’d give them a hug* I truly do understand this feels like the only way — I’ve had the same thoughts and experienced it with a loved one. I’m not going to tell you the usual things …the things you know. Just, remember that there is hope. I’ll come with you. I’ll help however I can, even if it’s just to listen…I will not judge you for your experience is yours and must be heard. Give me your hand.” — Eleanor Catalina Stevens
“Up close it’s hard to see a way out or the greater plan, but everything always works out in the end. So many people find times in their lives hard, but keep going and when you look back, you will see that it was all part of a greater plan.” — Laura P
“Let’s get you help! Who knows, you can overcome your depression and help others who are struggling, one thing is certain we need people who understand us, come with me, we’ll get you help, we’ll keep trying until you find a therapist you are satisfied with.” (this is just a note that I will help him/her get the help they need even though I don’t know them and they don’t know me). — Jazz Williams
“Things do get better. There are brighter days ahead but you have to stay here to see them. The world needs what you have.” — Wrae Sanders
“It’s okay to not be okay. And it gets better. Just stay. Use your voice to breathe life into a conversation that must be had. You are worth more than making a permanent decision based on a temporary emotion or thought. You are loved, and you can rise up once again.” — Maria Thomas
“You matter. You have people who care for you and will miss you. Your death will not relieve anyone else of a burden or make someone else’s life easier. Hold my hand. I am here for you and the journey ahead. It will get better.” — Teresa Colón
“Choosing to live, even though you are in deep pain, is courageous. That choice will help you take a step out of the darkness and into the light. That choice will prove to the world that you are stronger than your pain. That choice will prove to your pain that you are ready to fight back. That choice will begin your path to the help and support you need. I am here, talking to you, which proves to you that I care. I want to help you. And I will lead you to another person who will help you. And that person will lead you to another person who will help you. And another. And another. That path of people will be there for you as long as you need them. That path of people who care about you will lead you to safety, kindness, strength, and love. Take my hand right now, and let me help you start that path toward love.” — Kate Johnston
“Life is full of challenges, but that’s what teaches us to appreciate the good stuff. Today might be a challenge, but we’ll figure out a way to make tomorrow better. You matter in this world, and you are loved.” — Christalle Bodiford
“Think of those who love you and how it will destroy them to see you go my friend come with me to a better life.” — Robin Tomlin
“I would say that this is a very permanent decision for a temporary problem and ask them to talk to me, no matter how long it takes until they realize that someone cares. I would also tell them that there is always hope, that things can get better and that I will support them in getting the help they need to find their happy again.” — Pamela Jessen
“I know you think this is the only way to make the pain end. I don’t think you want to die. I think you’re just tired of living I’ve been there. I UNDERSTAND. I think you want to end the pain and suffering. I understand. But, don’t make a lifetime decision on today’s emotions. Emotions are fleeting. You might feel worthless. I bet you think you’re a burden or nobody will notice you’re gone. I would. I noticed one of my best friends every day is gone. I will be here for you. Keep talking to me. I will talk to you as long as you need to talk. I will be here for as long if you need me to be. We will get you through this together. The world needs your story to continue. You are destined for greatness.” — Jamie
“I would answer that ‘Hi this is Roger’ and if they said ‘I want to kill myself’ I would ask why and let them answer — then depending on what they said and how they said it — I would either ask them a few more questions or engage in a conversation letting them know that I was there and would listen and that I wanted to help — then let God be the Guiding Force while letting them know that I cared and they were precious and worthwhile.” — Roger Potter
How about you? What would you say if you had 60 seconds to talk a stranger out of taking his or her life? Let us know in the comments below.
What a powerful post, Mary!!! Thank you for allowing me to share it on my blog. As I always say:
There Is Always Hope.
Joy is an interesting concept. It can happen because of tiny little things or we experience it because of huge and delightful things. I’ve been tackling a lot of serious subjects lately, so today, I thought I’d talk about joy, and how being happy and thankful can be possible when you live with Chronic Pain and Invisible Illness.
I have a hummingbird feeder that I recently added to my backyard. Apparently, I also have a wasp nest nearby. Right after adding the hummingbird feeder, a swarm of wasps took it over, preventing these tiny birds from having a chance to use their new feeding station. I was mad. This was NOT why I had put the feeder out, so I started brainstorming ideas about how I was going to correct the situation. I went online and one of the ideas was to put out a food source for the wasps and then to move it away from the feeder a little bit each day until it was far enough that the birds would feel safe to eat again. That was all well and good, but it didn’t get rid of the wasps, it just relocated them further down my patio. I wasn’t sure where the nest was, and I wanted the wee pesties to go away completely.
Still, I put out a dish with a super concentrated nectar for them and sure enough, they started leaving the hummingbird feeder alone and going to their own dish. Some of them drowned but what mostly happened is that a bigger swarm of wasps showed up, now that they had a food source. Even more frustrated, I bought a wasp trap and hung it near the bird feeder, hoping to confuse the little buggers and trick them into dying. Oh yes…I can be very mean when I need to be! And yes, this too worked…but obviously the nest was nearby because even more wasps showed up!! So, where is the joy in all this? Well, I watched as the wasp trap did its job…many of the new swarm were attracted to the extra sweet nectar and flew into the trap, but then found themselves unable to get out again. I watched in joy as they struggled to figure out what to do, eventually getting tired and dropping to the bottom where they drowned in the treasure that had called to them in the first place. And my hummingbirds were able to enjoy the feeder that was meant for them in peace.
Not only that but Ray was able to find the nest and give it a good spray with wasp killer, so hopefully, we’ve eradicated them and won’t have to deal with their swarming any longer. Another cause for Joy.
The hummingbirds make me happy. Their energy and the buzz their wings make when they’re at the feeder brings a smile to my face every time. The colours they wear on their jewel-toned bodies flash in the sun, and each one brings a bright start to my day. In the same way, a good cup of coffee and a cuddle with my cat Dorie starts the morning off right, even if I haven’t had much sleep at all.
I think that often, people with Chronic Pain forget that it’s okay to feel joy. We’ve been so used to feeling the negative emotions that come with being in pain all the time that we forget there are positives in our lives as well. When you hurt, your focus is on the hurting. There is often desperation around pain because it’s never-ending. We can have a tendency to catastrophize it with phrases like “I’ll never get better” or “this is the worse pain I’ve ever had” yet when good things happen, we don’t do the same thing: “this is the happiest I’ve ever been” or “I’ve never been so happy”. It’s almost like we’re afraid to accept the joy in our lives for fear it’s going to go away and we’ll never experience it again. The thing is, we make our own joy, or we find our own joy…nobody does it for us. So, if you want joy…you have to look for it. Think about it for a minute…what are some things that might bring joy into your life? Here’s a list of 20 items that might get you started:
Watch a sunrise or sunset
Send someone you love snail mail
Keep a journal
Take a walk
Do a good deed
Read a novel
Go to the museum
Take a class
Enjoy a power nap
Log off Facebook
Practice positive affirmations
Plant a garden
Have a warm bath
Go to an art gallery
Give more compliments
Most of these ideas cost nothing but reap huge benefits in the joy department, and you deserve them! Not only that, but the more joy you bring into your life the more you fire up the endorphins that release the body’s natural painkillers, so you’re physically doing good to your body as well as mentally doing good to your body. That’s a 2 for 1 special you won’t find in any store!!
You are worth every joy possible. With everything your body goes through on a daily basis, it’s natural to feel beat up and unworthy of happiness. Those are your brain weasels talking. Brain weasels are the voices of depression that come with chronic pain and those weasels lie to you all the time.
They don’t want you to be happy so they’ll tell you all sorts of lies to try and convince you that you don’t deserve joy in your life, but THEY ARE WRONG. You have every right to be as happy and joyful as the next person. So take a chance on happiness EVERY chance you get and see if it doesn’t start your day off on a better note. And tell those brain weasels they can go the same way as the wasps!