Lately, I feel as if jealousy has it’s jaws at my throat and anger has snared my legs like I’m walking through a field snarled with briers and stinging nettle. Simple, innocent comments or situations cause a flood of painful emotions to spout up to overflowing. I find that I don’t dare speak for fear of the torrent of tears it would unleash. I know in my head that I need to work through these painful emotions and not try to stuff and ignore them. BUT I don’t even want to have these feelings; let alone deal with them. When I spoke about emotional resilience a few posts back it sounded doable. Now I’m drowning. I would be lying if I said that I was fine. If I said that I had this coping-with-painful-emotions stuff down pat it wouldn’t be the truth. I want this blog to be uplifting; not a drag-you-down with me place.
But I also know that being chronically ill brings with it a ton of emotional baggage. Painful emotions that are often not understood by those with good health. Emotions that we’re often told to just get over. Feelings about our day-to-day realities that are ignored. For example, here is a snippet of a conversation that I really had at my therapist’s office “Oh, you’re disabled…When are you going back to work?” Duh, my insurance is paying for her to hear and understand what I’m saying, and she’s a trained therapist, so why is she so heart deaf? I don’t expect this from a therapist. I started therapy, because I was feeling so sad about my poor health, and the fact that I was going to have to sell my house due to lack of income. Really this, too? I can’t even find a decent therapist, and she is the only one in this practice that takes my Medicare insurance.
Often life just isn’t fair, so when I hear someone remind me that my life is “different” than their’s, because we are on “different paths,” I want to scream: “My path sucks!! and I don’t like it!!” Why does my path or yours have to be so awful? Why do some people appear to have an easier time of it all the time? I don’t know. What I do know is that losing our health is like other losses. We need to grieve them and that takes time and effort.
Unfortunately, we tend to avoid painful emotions. We don’t want to feel them or think about them, so we drown them out with television, or video games, or eating, or drinking too much alcohol, etc. I tune mine out with food and Facebook games. What’s your preferred way to ignore painful emotions? None of these ways to dull our pain changes the causes of the pain. So when I lie down at night, all the yuck comes back to mind causing insomnia. Then lack of sleep decreases my ability to cope with daily stresses and my painful emotions. Hence, my opening paragraph about feeling consumed and overwhelmed by my painful emotions.
Here’s a graphic I created about these feelings. Maybe I’ll try to draw a picture of me, the wolf and the briers later.
How can you and I get off this merry-go-round of stuffing emotions and having them plague us at night? Here are thirteen coping skills that I have found helpful. Pick and choose for yourself.
- Be With It. We need to sit with our feelings and observe them without judging ourselves. I created the graphic above as a way to acknowledge that I was feeling those feelings. This is really hard for me. I need to keep reminding myself that my emotions aren’t “bad.”
- Accept the fact that most people will not understand your grief. This is really hard for us. We all long to be understood, to be known by our family and closest friends and loved fully anyway. We can try to educate others about what is happening to us, but real understanding will not happen unless they also become chronically ill. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
- Find fellow chronic illness friends to talk to. Whether online, by phone, or in person, those with chronic illnesses will understand where you’re coming from. Online support groups can be wonderful. It just takes a bit of time to find the right one for you.
- Read books/articles about chronic illness and grief. Currently, I’m working my way through When Chronic Pain and Illness Take Everything Away: How To Mourn Our Losses by Esther Smith. It has questions to answer at the end of every chapter.
- Express your emotions in constructive ways. Write poetry. Journal. Create art or music. Sculpt. Do crafts or woodworking.
- Create grieving rituals. Esther Smith talks about creating rituals to give yourself time to grieve each day. Her example was laying on the living room floor listening to Christian praise and worship music. She said that this often led to tears, but the weight of grief always seemed lighter afterwards. You may already be doing a repetitive ritual without thinking about it. I’m still mulling over this idea. I haven’t decided on anything specific yet. I’ll let you know when I do.
- Therapy. If you think that you need an outside perspective to get you unstuck, try counseling. Be forewarned that finding the right fit for you may take way more effort and time than you thought it would. It really helps if you identify what you need from a therapist and what you want to accomplish with them before setting foot in their office. For example, I didn’t clarify this with myself before going to therapy and I haven’t spoken up for what I need and want from our sessions with my therapist. If I had been upfront about my needs and wants at the beginning, perhaps I would feel better understood by my therapist now. Of course, I may need to find another one if this one is not willing or able to adjust her focus to meet mine. I have had a very beneficial relationship with a therapist in the past, so I know that they do exist. See P.S. Below!
FYI about Therapy
- Mental healthcare services are understaffed and underfunded in the United States. Be persistent. If you don’t have the energy to track down services, enlist a friend or family member to help you. Your primary care doctor’s office should be able to help if necessary. Also, be aware that it may take weeks or months to get your first appointment. I tell you these things in the hopes you will not get as discouraged and upset as I have in the past trying to wade my way through the “molasses swamp” of mental health care.
- Remember the happy memories. Yes, I had some major struggles in 2016, but I also had some really happy moments. Like when I got to observe my son graduate from college and when I strolled on the beach with my daughters picking up interesting shells, rocks, and beach glass. I bet you had something good, pleasant or fun happen to you last year as well. Keep on display in your home mementos that help you recall those pleasant memories.
- Keep a gratitude list. Write down things that you are thankful for. Things you enjoy experiencing. Like watching birds at a bird feeder or the way sunlight sparkles through soap bubbles. You can keep this list in a journal or create a Happy Jar and enter each item on a slip of paper and fill the jar with them.
- Mindfulness. If it feels impossible to be thankful for anything, focus on things you can see, touch, taste, hear, or smell. For example, the aroma of your cup of tea; the way it feels in your mouth and when you swallow; how does it taste; the feel of the cup in your hand. Paying attention to where we are in the moment and what we are experiencing with our senses is calming in itself. However, it also allows up to appreciate the moment. The more moments in our day that we appreciate, the better our days go.
- Meditate or pray. My faith in Jesus is vital to me. Reading the Bible and meditating on scriptures feeds my spirit, comforts and strengthens me, and gives my life purpose. Use your spiritual practices to help you cope with painful emotions and situations. If you would like to know more about Jesus you can click here.
- Exercise. Do what you can. Stretching and yoga are excellent choices to help keep you functioning, and they can be adapted for your situation. If you’re able, take a walk even if it’s in the house. Even a little movement everyday is better than none, and it will help prevent stiffness from staying in one position too long. Physical therapists can create a movement plan to fit your situation, so you don’t injure yourself.
- Get outside into nature as often as you can. Or find a window with a view. There is something about nature that is truly calming.
So here you have a bunch of coping skills to choose from and to practice for dealing with painful emotions. I’m so forgetful that I need frequent reminders to use these techniques and to practice them. Be kind to yourself when you forget to use them. I’ll try to be kind to myself as well. Pick yourself back up where you are. Let me know below which one is your favorite and why. If you’ve discovered a grieving ritual that is helpful share it with us. The more ideas we have, the more likely we are to find activities that help us cope.
Till next time, Kathy
P.S. on Therapy: I did learn to speak up about what I needed from my therapist, and I think she finally understands me better. It has become a beneficial relationship. So sometimes instead of finding another therapist, we need to figure out how to get what we need by speaking up.