There have been many occasions where I thought, “If I could only feel good, my self-esteem would be so much better.” Like many living with chronic illness, I find that being sick and in pain makes me frustrated at my body for working against me. Moreover, the medications I take to manage my diseases can cause some pretty awful side effects. Medication responses, such as skin problems, hair loss, puffy face and weight gain, all affect my self-esteem.
Chronic illnesses can lower levels of self-esteem and self-worth. Years of living with illness, pain and fatigue make it difficult to achieve life goals. Being sick can make it impossible to be self-sufficient and happy, thereby resulting in feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. When we feel worthless and/or helpless for long periods, depression is inevitable. And with depression come higher levels of pain and increased disease symptoms.
It is not unusual for individuals living with chronic illness to feel shortchanged by their diseases. When we find ourselves unable to do the things we were once able to do – such as working long hours or doing the same work, travelling, eating what we want, being physically active, and being there for loved ones – we feel deprived. Feeling shortchanged doesn’t allow patients the opportunity to see past their limitations or to feel like they have any control over their lives.
Why and How We Feel Shortchanged
Chronically ill patients can feel shortchanged because of limitations imposed by their diseases. We try to convince ourselves that our limitations are not significant or we discredit our feelings by telling ourselves that others have much worse limitations than we do. By not being honest with ourselves, we are not acknowledging why we are feeling shortchanged.
Limitations and unwelcome change can bring about feelings of sadness for chronically ill persons. Additionally, many feel alone and that no one understands what they are going through. We also feel a loss of personal control because our illnesses seem to be getting the best of us. We envy those who are healthy and we wish we were. Further, because society dictates the notion of progress, we work harder, endure more and push on despite how we feel and sadly, it is a constant battle.
Feeling anger is also common emotion when we feel short-changed. We are angry at our diseases and at our bodies for rebelling against us. We are angry at people who do not understand our ordeal and at our doctors for not being able to get us symptom-free. We are devastated by all the losses that chronic illness has brought into our lives such as financial loss, the loss of friends and family, or the loss of function. Illness has a way of destroying a person’s dreams and limits having a normal life.
Living with Chronic Illness
Living with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, I am not as active as I used to be. I am also not as attentive to my children’s school activities or playing with them and even to the needs of my mother who is disabled following a stroke. Most weekends, I am worn out from just cleaning my home. Not being to take on the things that I was able to do before chronic illness makes me feel depressed. RA and fibromyalgia have limited me and sometimes, I feel at a disadvantage due my illnesses.
Being sick has changed my aspirations, my expectations and my emotions. I am not the same person I was prior to my diagnoses but I know cannot turn back time and be that person again. While I wish I could, I think it is far more important to not dwell on what has been lost and to enjoy the present. I don’t know what direction my health will go and I don’t know where it will be in five or ten years. I just know that the future is not as important as today. And that is not a bad thing – I am just being realistic.
I have learned that in order not to feel shortchanged, I must accept that I am chronically ill. In doing so, I am better able to manage my disease through treatment, minimizing stress, and prioritizing my responsibilities. I also realize that while I am not able to do the things I once was able to do, I can still have hobbies, responsibilities and dreams. With this belief in mind, I am hopeful for a better quality of life.
What You Can Do
Feeling short-changed by chronic illness is a natural reaction. A good solution is to acknowledge that you are feeling short-changed. It is also equally important to find effective ways to cope with these feelings. You can lessen feeling deprived and learn to cope by replacing the things you are no longer able to do with things that you can do. For example, if you can no longer play your favorite sport, consider coaching your child’s sports team or if you can no longer knit or do needlepoint work, take up gardening. New opportunities are always available and finding them involves letting go of the things chronic illness has taken from us.
When we offer ourselves other opportunities, feeling short-changed doesn’t seem so overwhelming. The whirlwind of these emotions will come to an impasse. When we learn to be more realistic about expectations, we realize that what we can do and how we react is far more important than what we cannot do or what we have no control over. We learn to cope and we feel less deprived when we arm ourselves with the tools necessary to live successfully with and despite chronic illness.
Still Feeling Short-Changed?
If you are still feeling short-changed, I suggest being open and honest with yourself about why you are feeling this way. Ask yourself why it is you are feeling deprived and work through those feelings. Once you have acknowledged why you are feeling short-changed, do some soul searching to find new ways in which you can make your life more enjoyable and much fuller.