I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much a chronic illness can change a person. Typically this phenomenon isn’t unique to a diagnosis of illness of course; a person can ‘change’ for countless reasons. But one of the most substantial is a sudden and drastic alteration to our life. An unexpected shock. A bombshell.
Of course not all diagnoses of illness follow this ‘bombshell’ route – many of us are eventually diagnosed with something after a long and protracted period of sickness. Symptoms build and we experience all the ups and downs and confusion that goes alongside being continually ill, rather than just waking up one morning and finding ourselves ‘diseased’.
It might not seem much of a revelation to talk about a person changing due to illness. It’s not. Being told you have an illness which is incurable and/or will be a continual struggle for the remainder of your life has a huge mental and physical impact on a person.
The bright side of this process of change is that said change doesn’t have to be negative. That’s something I certainly found difficult to grasp for a long time after my own diagnosis; I focused solely on what and whom I’d lost, what I could no longer do and what this illness had done to strip away from who I used to be. It made me sad, frustrated, despondent and so, so angry.
Anger is powerful.
It can be a cause for action, a good catalyst to spur us into productive fight – we use our anger at the injustices of the world to fight back against governments, against unfair laws, against sexism, racism, bigotry of any kind. So undoubtedly anger is not always a bad thing. For someone like myself who has routinely hated confrontation I’ve tried to appreciate that anger is something that cannot (and shouldn’t) be contained forever. It has to have an outlet, and that choice of outlet should be one of our choosing which doesn’t cause damage to you, others or your own heart.
What I mean by that is I’ve been on the receiving end of anger which hasn’t been funnelled in a safe way – where it comes out as spat-out obscenities you’ll regret later, where it comes out through hasty and stupid choices, or through a clenched fist. None of these scenarios end well, and they certainly don’t lend to us being well.
Anger for me is a part of life.
I’m angry a lot and I wish I weren’t. I have a lot not to be angry about – I have a job I enjoy, I get to write, I have a loving family and friends, and I have a partner who without whom I’d surely turn to dust.
But I am angry because I have a chronic illness that causes me to spend my life in pain. I have learned (as best as anyone can) to live and adapt to it, but my condition is ever changing and unpredictable. I’m angry because I am someone who now struggles massively with anxiety and suffers from depression. That may all have come to my door with or without Crohn’s, but nevertheless it’s here and it’s the ‘thing’ I’m angry at.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling some form of anger at being ‘sick’, but like every aspect of this illness what matters now is how I cope with it. How I choose to act and how I live despite it. I hope that that is without bitterness and resentment, because as much as I wish I wasn’t a permanent patient, I am grateful for whom I have ‘changed’ into throughout my sickly-life.
My heart is full of love and lust for life. I want to live life to the full and I get angry and frustrated when it feels like that life is being stunted or shortened. But as I can’t use my anger to paint banners and march to Parliament to rid myself (and all of you) of this illness, I can use it to remind myself that simply feeling it means I’m alive. If that isn’t something to fight for I don’t know what is.