December 9

Overcoming Disappointment When You Have a Chronic Illness

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On a scale from 1 – 10 on the disappointment scale, having a chronic illness sits at about 148. To overcome it, you’re going to need practical exercises. And my 5-step process to overcome the disappointments of having a chronic illness includes:

  1. Confronting what you are disappointed about; 
  2. Identifying your values that were compromised; 
  3. Knowing when to forgive yourself; 
  4. Getting out of your own head; and 
  5. Setting realistic expectations.  

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I would rather pull my eyes out than listen to another person tell me, “you just need to keep positive,” or “this too, shall pass”. 

Seriously? 

Your whole life changes and you’re telling me to rely on the most cliche inspiration quotes that may as well be typed over a generic picture of a sunset? 

While it’s a sweet thought and it does have merit. It’s simply not enough. 

In the end – you still feel disappointed about what life has thrown you, and now you’re also disappointed about the advice you’ve been given to work through it. 

Dr Michale Ashworth (Ph.D), sums up disappointment on Psych Central pretty well. He says:

“Disappointment results from thoughts and expectations being out of line with reality.” 


And chronic illness isn’t a minor disappointment. It’s not the same as finding out that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. Or that someone ate the last piece of cake. It takes hardly any effort to adapt to these events.  

The severity of disappointment you feel from a chronic illness comes from the fact that each aspect of your day-to-day life has changed in unimaginable ways. 

All your hopes and aspirations need to be re-looked at. Your plans may not be viable anymore. And you need to build your life up again. 

Overcoming disappointment isn’t just about letting go of what has happened. It’s about feeling ready to build your life up from scratch again.

Over the last 10 years that I have been chronically ill, I have banged my head against many walls. 

I have felt a sense of disappointment so deep that I’ve considered giving up on myself. On some days, I actually did. 

I’ve felt tired of trying to start my life… again. I have scoured to find something to be hopeful about. 

I’ve spent days crying and asking myself what purpose do I have anymore now that I am chronically ill? I’ve taken my frustrations out on the whole family. 

But today, all my hardships have taught me how to deal with disappointment in a much healthier way. Not only when it comes to my health, but with my life overall. 

I’ve actually found my tactics to be so effective, that I have wanted to share them for a long time and today I am going to share them with you.

Step 1: Confront Your Disappointment

Saying you’re disappointed because of your chronic illness is not enough. It’s about confronting the fact that it has changed your life. You cannot move on until you mourn what you’ve lost. 

woman dealing with her demons of disappointment

My diagnosis was a confusing time. On the one hand, I was relieved that someone could tell me what the hell was wrong with me. On the other hand, my diagnosis was bad and the prognosis was even worse. 

I didn’t feel disappointed right away. I actually felt sad, dismissive, scared, angry, lonely and confused… basically anything else a normal person would feel. 

I started to feel disappointed when I realised just how much my life was changing. I tried to keep things as ‘normal’ as possible, but it only seemed to make everything worse.

Let yourself mourn

Your life has just gone through a very big change. It’s not the same and shouldn’t pretend that it is. The longer you avoid thinking about your diagnosis, the longer it will take to heal. Get your favourite movies lined up, many warm blankets and some of your favourite treats. Try to make this experience as comfortable as possible. 

This is not the time for hard love. 

Don’t act on anything right now

Mourning takes time, so please be patient with yourself. When you feel so emotionally vulnerable, it is not the time to make any important decisions. Trauma can skewer your judgement a lot.

You need a mental break from your current issues, concerns and errands. 

Instead, try to keep some consistency in your life with small rituals to ease the change and help you keep in touch with reality. 

It can be something small, like eating the same yoghurt that you love every day. Or even taking the dogs for a walk at 4pm exactly. 

Make sure to re-evaluate how you feel every day 

Yes, mourning is important. But you shouldn’t use it as an excuse to get lost in your own thoughts. Try to be aware of how you feel every day when you wake up. If you are feeling worse every day – remember that the objective is to process the grief. Mourning means you need to say goodbye. It means parts of your life are over. But you have a new and exciting life ahead of you (I promise). 

Healing from disappointment means waking up every day, living your life, and making an effort to replace the bad memories you have with new ones that are good. 

Eventually, the grief does stop as new life, love and adventures cover the past. 

Step 2: Identify Your Values That Were Compromised 

When disappointment is this big, it can be overwhelming to process. If you break down your thoughts into smaller parts, you can understand the values you feel were comprised and can allocate a solution more easily. 

heartbroken woman

Think about it this way, when you fall down, picking yourself up again is a lot easier when you know what you’re walking towards. 

Motivation and purpose are everything in life. Without them – we have no reason to live. Interestingly, it’s actually one of the reasons why many people who retire at a younger age are likely to die younger too. 

This step is so important because if you can identify the exact life values that you feel were compromised, it’s way easier to deal with each one separately. 

Tackling the whole disappointment monster you have, in one go, is near impossible and will drive you crazy. 

So here’s what you need to do: 

Ask yourself “who” or “what” has caused the disappointment.

Start by getting yourself a piece of paper and jot down the main areas in your life that you are disappointed about. 

You can either write this down as a list or create a mind map. It depends on what helps you generate your thoughts more clearly. 

The five main things that are likely to affect you, are your: 

  • Career; 
  • Studies or ambitions; 
  • Relationships; 
  • Daily functionality;
  • Hobbies or interests. 

If it helps you, start by writing these categories down and then going from there. 

Going forward, it really helps if you can jot down what is disappointing you straight after it happens so that you remember it needs to be dealt with. 

Think about exactly how they affected you

Now that you have a clear idea of what is getting to you and causing disappointment. You need to elaborate on: 

  1. Why they triggered these feelings, and 
  2. The result you were originally expecting. 

Some of these will be so easy to answer it will feel silly. Others may be really tricky to understand – but give it your best shot. 

Now that you’re aware it’s an issue, you will start thinking about why it’s an issue a lot more. 

Write down an example of how each thing or person has left you feeling disappointed, and what you originally expected or wanted.  

What you should have is a page where all your mental confusion is now thought through, clear and honest.

Make sure you’re 100% happy with this list, you’re going to need it! And I’ll explain why in the next few steps. 

Step 3: Get Out of Your Own Head 

You’ve got your thoughts mapped out. Now it’s time to take a step back and put them into perspective. It’s important to ground yourself before you decide what action to take. 

the challenges of overcoming disappointment when you are chronically ill

Before you start thinking of solutions to all the disappointments you have listed: Take a step back, breath, and call someone you trust for advice. 

It’s so easy for your mind to be soaked in your own thoughts and opinions. The more time you spend by yourself, the more time you have to think. 

While this is really good, we need to engage with the outside world so that we keep our thought-process realistic, rational and helpful. 

Take some time off to re-evaluate what you wrote. 

This helps you look at what you wrote with a clearer mind.Ask yourself how true each disappointment you wrote down is to you. 

Is there anything you feel is irrational or not worth mentioning anymore?Or maybe you’ve thought of something new you’d like to add. As a writer, this would be considered your copy-editing stage.

Ask someone you trust to give you constructive criticism

The best way to get an objective opinion, is to get another person on board to see what you’ve shared. You need to trust this person and know you’re not obliged to listen to every word they say. I’m not going to lie – criticism can really sting. (I’m a writer, I know this!) But if you trust the person who is giving you advice, be open minded when they give you criticism. Remember it’s meant to be constructive, so they should give you a way to improve your thought process, or think about your issue differently. It’s a great way to go back to your drawing board hopefully lighten your load.

Don’t just focus on yourself in this process 

This is going to sound very counterintuitive. But one of the best ways to clear your mind and get a more objective perspective on your own life is by helping others. 

This could be small, like helping some friends work through their own issues (not yours). Or bigger, like helping out a charity by doing community work. 

The point is – just get out and help someone else. Take a few minutes to listen to someone else’s hopes, dreams, frustrations and fears. And do your best to support them and show kindness. 

Nothing puts your own life into perspective when you can find ways to relate and help others. 

You can expand this to friends and family too. Start by celebrating your loved ones for reaching the goals they set up for themselves. Be happy for them. 

Mentally prepare for the fact that others may achieve some of the goals you had planned for yourself before your diagnosis. 

When they do – you need to bring them up. 

It’s all one big feel-good cycle. It boosts your morale to see your loved ones doing well. And it encourages you to keep going. 

Step 4: Forgive Yourself

How to work with your past and understand your limits so that you can let go of what you’re already disappointed about. 

woman looking at herself in the mirror

If you’re disappointed because you haven’t been able to achieve the things that you wanted to achieve before your diagnosis. Especially because it’s no longer realistic – it’s not your fault. 

You don’t deserve to punish yourself for something you could not control. 

It’s likely that you have some small bad habits that can bring you down – without even knowing it! 

You need to know your limits, and not punish yourself for them. 

Watch the language you use to talk about yourself 

This is subconscious behaviour that you probably have no idea you do, or how bad it actually is for your psyche. 

Here’s a couple of common phrases you should definitely watch out for. Print them and stick them on your walls – it doesn’t matter. Just do what works for you so that you can kickstart a better mindset. 

Negative comment: Why can't I be more like them? 

Positive change: They’re doing well. I am doing well too. There’s enough good stuff to go around for everyone.


Negative comment: I failed at... 

Positive comment: I am still learning to...  


Negative comment: I hope they don't hate me for... 

Positive change: I don't need others to validate my decisions. I will continue to grow and change from a place of self-acceptance. 


Negative comment: I can't deal with these changes. 

Positive change: I am grateful for the healing I've had so far. 


Negative comment: I haven't made enough progress. 

Positive change: I'm listening and learning from my pain. 


Heal by turning disappointments into new opportunities 

We all get consumed by our lives. Our routines, goals and ambitions are set by what we know. 

One of the most rewarding things I found from flaring or having to stay at home is that I have time to myself. 

The nature of how we live today, is that most people are too busy to ever look beyond their own busy schedules. The opportunity to get a fresh to work on self growth doesn’t exist. 

We have the time.

Not only to learn about ourselves, but the world around us too. This is a huge opportunity that opens the door to many more. 

When I was given this gift of time, I decided to start keeping a journal. And it was through this hobby that I realised how much I enjoy writing. 

At the time I was disappointed because my dream of studying medicine was over because my health did not allow for it. 

And I was rethinking my plans because I was also learning so much about being a medical patient – which is a source of information that no doctor has.  

So, I told my friends and family I would love to do something that combines my writing with my love of medicine. 

And after a few months of putting myself out there and asking people if they had any suggestions.

I got an interview to work at a national health magazine through one of my friends. And I went from intern to editor. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. 

I definitely see my career path as a disappointment that became an opportunity. But only when I look back at it now. 

To harness your hidden opportunities, the most important things to remember are to: 

  • Take time to learn about the things you like. Especially new hobbies or activities. Just keep exploring. 
  • Express your interests and hobbies to your friends and family. And make it clear that you want to get more involved in them.
  • Get out of your comfort zone. Opportunity doesn’t come if you’re not willing to grow as a person.
  • Keep your eyes open to what’s happening around you. There’s no telling what you may find if you just look.
  • Try to have an open mind when trying new things. Being stubborn makes this process so much harder. 

Step 5: Learn Your Limits and Set Realistic Expectations 

Working with your past disappointments will help set realistic expectations for your future. Not all hope is lost. 

woman confronting disappointment by protecting herself

Stop trying to push yourself when it isn’t necessary

Your limits are there for a reason. And when it comes to a chronic illness, no healing can happen until you can accept your present life for what it is. 

Honouring your boundaries does wonders for your mental health. If you stop being disappointed in yourself because of your limits, it gives you the opportunity to learn from them. 

See the beauty in your boundaries

Isn’t it liberating to know that you cannot possibly achieve everything in life and have it all? 

There is so much freedom in accepting your limits. So why not just embrace all that you can and forget about the rest?

The more you push yourself to try and do things that are impossible, you will always feel limited. And the more you push yourself in areas of life where you can grow; the more opportunities will present themselves. 

Regain control of your mind

At no point should your disappointment leave you feeling permanently:

  • Pessimistic, 
  • Scornful,
  • Lethargic; or
  • Resentful. 

So you need to think about how you want to handle your next encounter with disappointment when your expectations can’t be met. 

As much as we’d love to wish our bad luck away, it’s inevitable that you will feel disappointed at some point in your future.  

So it’s important to know your triggers, your weak points and the things that make you feel better in moments of despair. 

Big or small – you need to try and manage it a little better each time through this process. 

When you’re in doubt, look how far you’ve come

Earlier I mentioned I loved journaling. One of the reasons for this is that it keeps track of the obstacles I’ve faced and any small steps I’ve taken forward. I try to take as many pictures as possible too.  

Whenever I feel demotivated, I go through my journal and look at just the progress I’ve made over the years. 

It is overwhelming, but a super motivating process. 

We have so many issues to overcome every day. That we forget what we’ve already accomplished. I can guarantee you, that you’ve overcome more than you realise since your chronic illness journey started. 

If you keep a journal, you’ll be able to see it too.

It’s hard to feel disappointed with yourself if you’re continuously boosting yourself up with attainable goals. 

And when you get to this step (I.e. feeling okay with setting new hopes or expectations for yourself) – congratulations. This is a huge step because it shows that are ready to put yourself out there again.

Your past disappointments should never make you give up hope in yourself. 

They should be used to make you wiser and more conscientious of your future decisions. And they should teach you something about life that you didn’t consider before. 

Remember just because you’re disappointed right now. It doesn’t mean that you are a disappointment yourself. Be kind to yourself, be patient and be open to what life has in store for you. 

Marina

Marina Wildt is an experienced health and wellness writer, chronic illness warrior and founder of The Discerning You. In the last 12 years, she has gone from being paralysed in a wheelchair to living a full life alongside her conditions and now she wants to share all the practical advice that she has learnt with you.


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