The way you respond to things changes when you have a chronic illness. You start to feel disappointed about things you never would have imagined could be disappointing, and happy about what many would feel are awful things. This is the complicated state of things within illness.
It’s strange, the first time you rejoice over test results that show something is wrong. It is odd making phone calls that go:
“It’s not cancer.”
“I’m so sorry.”
Life is different, and so your emotions change to match this new, different life.
I had a doctor, Dr. Poole, who was young and frustrated with my illness, just like I was. I remember an appointment with him that will stick with me forever:
“I have your test results,” he said lightly, “Do you want the good news or the bad news first?”
“The bad news.”
“The bad news is that your tests all came back normal.” Here he paused, then added, “The good news is all your tests came back normal.”
We laughed quietly, and I asked, shaking my head at life, “What’s next then?”
Chronic illness turns the world upside down, and your emotions go with it. Which is something that is difficult to explain to people not familiar with this kind of life.
You may wonder if you’re losing your mind. You’re not.
I know all of those questions. How can I explain the desperate need I have to feel validated for these strange things happening inside my body? What words can I use to express the deep desire I have to know I am not the only one who is suffering with whatever disease this is?
You seek the one thing all humans seek: that you are not alone.
What you are looking for is a place, a center, a known quantity. It’s crazy to think that you’d rejoice over a diagnosis of chronic illness, cancer or mental illness. But it happens. It makes you happy. It fills you with the knowledge that you do not suffer alone; that you are not the only one living in this weird, painful hell.
You are not rejoicing that others suffer. You are not gleeful over any of this. This is not the kind of happy where you go out and have a drink to celebrate. You don’t throw a diagnosis party.
However, a small part of your soul may sing.
A negative test result means something is wrong, that this is real. A diagnosis means there are others who have had this, enough of them that it has a name! You are not crazy. Or, well, maybe you are, but it’s the same kind of crazy as other people.
At the same time, there is sadness. Sadness because you are ill. Sometimes a sense of loss, especially when it’s likely you’ll never get your “normal” life back, as in the case of chronic illnesses. There is pain. Grief that can overwhelm you.
And you feel all of this at once.
You thought life was complicated before: welcome to a completely new emotional realm.
For those who care for the ill, there’s another weird complication: feelings of happiness regarding the pain of another. You can feel this strange relief to know that what the other feels is real, diagnosable, even if not treatable. That they aren’t crazy. That all this time, money and worry has paid off. Yet… there is something else.
Sorrow that someone you love is hurting makes these positive emotions feel like a betrayal. An aching wish for the other to be healthy, but a mixed up sense of hope that maybe there’s something that can be done now that there’s a name for what is happening to them. Perhaps now there is a chance they will get better, improve or be happier.
When it’s a patient, there’s this strange feeling of success: you’ve figured out what’s wrong! All those years of training, experience, and learning have paid off, if only for this one moment, where you can say, “This is what’s wrong.” Now you can plan a treatment, figure out a place to start, and start working with them to move them towards better health. Yet, there is never a moment when you wish pain or illness on patients.
Illness is complicated for everyone.
There is no easy path through chronic illness. Like so many awful things, the only way out is through. And on that path there are ups and downs, sometimes at the same time.
Right now, as I write this, I am waiting for a MRI to be scheduled, which will likely be followed up by a lumbar puncture. I never, ever imagined I would wish for these tests to show abnormalities. But, yet, I find myself doing just that.
And my therapist has said, “Yes, you are definitely suffering from Major Depression.” And I find myself feeling happiness, because it will help with my disability application; sad, because it means the monster has caught up with me again; pleased, because it means I am not going full-on crazy; achingly frustrated, because it means these miserable feelings, panic attacks and piling frustrations will not easily dissipate. I am going to have to fight this war, again, but I know I am not alone and that this is not the first, nor likely the last, I will have to fight and I know my enemy and I have support, love and SNRI’s to help me.
Happy. Sad. Peace. Loss. Frustration. Hope. Anxiety.
I live in a war zone. My body is the prize. My soul is the battle ground. The possible casualty list is long, and I know all the faces by heart, as anyone unwilling to bear arms has fled the field long ago. I feel wildly alone, deeply loved, and truly supported. If I hold on tight, I might make it through this war, live my life and still find joy.
It’s hard not to have mixed emotions.