What happens when that stoic suit of armour starts to get dented, kinked and doubt and fear begin to creep in?
Before I was a parent the prospect of having surgery didn’t worry me too much, I knew what to expect, I knew it would hurt and I knew I would be ok eventually once I healed. Then I became a parent and suddenly I felt fear. The fear wasn’t at my own mortality but fear for those around me and the effect my well-being or lack thereof has on them.
I have a major surgery coming up and was talking with my general practitioner about this the other day. I told her I was having anxiety and struggling to cope with it, when she delved into this with me and asked the right questions it became clear what the real issue was. She told me that she sees many patients with chronic illness who do not fear their own mortality or worry for themselves, like me she proceeded, they are stoic and strong and people around them see them as coping and not fazed by what lies ahead. What affects them the most is worrying about their loved ones and how hard it is on them. For me this hit home, I worry about how my 5-year-old son will cope, how hard it is on him to see me in pain, what would happen if something went wrong, am I doing the right thing and saying the right things to him to equip him with coping? I worry about my husband who is insanely strong and my rock but I know my health weighs on him like an anchor. I worry about my parents and sibling and how hard it is for them. I know the ferocity of a mother’s love so how hard must this be for my own parents?
My doctor often tells me I am too stoic for my own good, that sometimes I need to let the armour down and let others in on how I am feeling, but as many people with chronic illness will attest, we push on and stay strong because sometimes if you stop and think about it too much it feels like you will never be able to pick yourself up and keep fighting. I know many chronic illness warriors that get up every day, put on that suit of armour and push on with life despite being in pain, having a flare up of symptoms or being exhausted. Why do we do it? Because we refuse to let our illness win and defeat us, because we know to stop is to give up and giving up is not an option. I have had countless people ask me how I manage to work, be a mum, volunteer and still attend social functions when I am in pain or in a flare up, for me the answer is quite simple, if I stop doing these things, if I stop working and having a reason to get up and push on each day then I know I will decline. The decline is not so much physical but mental, I would stop trying so hard to keep living a ‘normal’ life and the voice in my head that says you can do this would start saying I can’t and it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So how do we keep our armour strong and glistening whilst letting our guard down enough for help? How do you let your loved ones in and not hold in all the worry and fear until the pressure builds and you release all those feelings like a pressure cooker? I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. As a parent you will always protect your child from the things that scare them, whether that is the bogey man or the reality of your health issues, whilst you don’t want them to know if you are scared or worried you should be honest about your illness and talk to them about it, kids pick up on much more than we realise and in my experience being honest and straight forward with them is the best option.
Kids aside, those that love and care for you would want to know how you feel, they want to be there for you, they want to help and be able to support you through your fears and anxiety. Find that someone you can talk to and let down your armour for just a minute, it’s hard enough managing chronic illness you don’t need to hold in all your feelings all the time too. If you don’t feel you have anyone close you can talk to then talk to your doctor, a counselor, a psychologist or ask your specialist for a referral to someone who understands your condition. There’s plenty of support groups around whether that’s in your local area or online, just be careful though, whilst connecting with like-minded people can have many great benefits, some groups take a negative tone and can often result in people feeling worse, judge for yourself and if you feel the group is not helping then it’s easy to take a step back from it. If you don’t have access to any of these or feel that you really can’t cope, then find a local service that allows you to talk to a trained individual like Lifeline 13 11 14 in Australia.
Most of all remember you are not alone, you are a chronic illness warrior and tomorrow you will wake up, put that suit of armour on, fight another day and you will win!