Why Me?

Emotional Care - October 31, 2013

If you are dealing with a major illness you can be certain that at times you will feel like screaming "WHY ME?" Feelings of anger and resentment and general "victimhood" are natural and normal emotions for anyone coping with the stress of illness. Yet often we feel we shouldn't have, let alone express, those feelings. Often this happens because there is a general belief in our culture that having a positive attitude helps in healing. The upbeat, chipper patient who finds a way to remain positive even when things are difficult is held up as a sort of hero character in our society. While there is evidence that having a positive attitude may lead to better results for some patients, I believe this concept is a bit overblown in our society.

Sometimes well meaning friends and family members will actually scold a patient or caregiver for making negative comments or expressing concern that things may not work out. While the intention behind this may be good is it often not particularly helpful. It isn't realistic to expect people to deal with the stress and frustrations of illness and always remain sunny and positive. The reality is major illness, surgery, and injury present difficult emotional challenges in addition to the physical discomforts. Many times it means a loss in ability (at least temporarily) to function normally, it means accepting help for basic everyday things that most people do without even thinking, it sometimes means being completely dependent on someone else for nearly everything. For an able bodied adult, that can be a huge transition and cause deep frustration and even anger. Add to that the fear of facing mortality and physical discomforts and it is just silly to expect someone to gloss over these emotions and always see the sunny side of the situation.

So while it is normal and natural to be upset and frustrated, it is actually important to do what you can to focus on having a positive attitude because it really is helpful. Getting caught up in a pattern of negative thinking is not a good idea. This presents a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand you do need to remain positive. However on the other, if you don't genuinely recognize and acknowledge the fact that your illness causes frustration, upset, and stress you will go crazy. How do you find the balance?

Set Aside Time. I found it helpful to actually designate time to be angry about my husband's illness; it was something that I would regularly schedule. This may seem like a strange concept but having a time you know you can actually wallow in your feelings of fear and anger can help you to let it go the rest of the time. You may want to have a time alone on a regular basis where you can cry, or walk alone, talk to a friend or otherwise fully feel and express your emotions. It's sort of like having a pressure valve that can be opened at the appropriate time. This makes it less likely for it to explode during a less desirable time.

Recognize Your Limits. Certain people or situations may trigger your feelings of anger or frustration. You may find that some people have a tendency to say or do things that make you feel pessimistic or annoyed. It is important to not only recognize those triggers but go to lengths to avoid them. It is fine to limit contact with some people (even if they mean well) or avoid social situations that bother you. When you are dealing with illness or recovering I believe you get a pass to avoid the social situations that aggravate you. As a matter of fact, I believe you get a pass to avoid anything you want regardless of the reason. The people in your life should understand that things aren't normal. If someone isn't understanding of the distance and flexibility you need I recommend that you ask someone else to gently remind them of your limitations.

Be Gentle With Yourself. It is so important to recognize that you have to cut yourself some slack. If you have a chronic illness or have had surgery or an injury, life will not be normal for some time. Most people do not expect a new parent to immediately adjust to parenthood without difficulty. And most people also wouldn't expect a person living in a new country to adapt instantly without moments of upset or frustration. Coping with illness or recovering from surgery or injury are similar major life events that require understanding and patience while adjusting to the "new normal". I suggest you set realistic expectations for a time to adjust to the challenges this presents.

It is important to remember when you are dealing with illness that it is normal to feel a bit like a victim of your illness. Ignoring those legitimate feelings will not make them go away. I found that it is better to look for strategies and techniques that will help you acknowledge these natural feelings. This can make it easier to let them go which will allow you to focus your attention on healing and enjoying life.