How I went from Anger to Acceptance of My Illness

Woman holding her head and looking stressed

By Lisa Mark, C.P.O.

It is said that the stages we experience when dealing with a life-changing illness or injury are similar to the stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

My illness was so extreme, life-altering, sudden, acute, severe and painful that I skipped the denial stage and went straight into anger. What turned out to be Gastroparesis was at the time a mystery that stumped my doctors, whose responses to me ranged from outright disbelief to hostility. So, yeah, I was angry.

My anger was caused partly by the awful managed-care practitioner I was seeing at the time. He had the ‘Denial’ stage down pat and accused me of lying about my symptoms to hide what he said was the true cause of my illness: Anorexia. Or maybe Bulimia.

But it was also because I was really, really pissed about having gotten sick in the first place.

I was pissed at myself for ignoring my initial symptoms until they became too severe to ignore, and for my weakness in getting sick in the first place.

I was pissed at my managed health practitioner for not believing me when I said I wasn’t making myself throw up.

I was pissed at the ER docs who misdiagnosed my illness as ‘vague stomach upset’ and sent me home with an antacid and order to ‘get some sleep.’

I was pissed at my health plan for providing so few good health care practitioners in my network.

Angry that I had to stop nursing my infant daughter because the medications I was on might cross into my breastmilk and affect her.

Pissed that while I was struggling to get better, my friends were caring for their kids, going on vacation, working and living their lives.

Angry at the cost of the financial and other resources my illness was sucking away from my family.

Angry that the life I’d laid out for myself was not turning out as I’d hoped.

Angry at the lack of acceptance from friends and family members who didn’t believe I was ‘really’ sick.

I had two little kids, aged 5 years and 3 months at the time of my first illness, and they needed me, their mom, to be healthy and available. And I was anything but. I was pissed about that, too.

I just couldn’t accept the fact that I was so sick and unavailable during these critical first years with my kids, a time when my family really needed me to be healthy.

Yeah, I spent a lot of time being pissed. Which made it difficult, if not impossible, for me to heal.

The Turning Point

My friend, one of the few who didn’t abandon me when I needed her most, stopped by to sit with me so my spouse could go to work. I was so sick that I couldn’t be left alone. She sat next to me on my sofa, patiently listening while I ranted and railed about the unfairness of it all. Why me? I kept saying. Why did IIII have to get sick? Why couldn’t it have been any one of a number of other women that I knew?

When I was finished, exhausted and tear-stained, my beautiful friend turned to me and asked me the question that would start me on my journey of acceptance and healing.

She asked me why I thought it would be any fairer if illness had happened to someone else instead of me. In essence, she was asking, ‘Why not you?’

I hate to say it, but she had a point. Why, indeed, not me? Who am I to think I am exempt from this illness?

And it was at that moment that I started to accept my illness, let go of my anger, and heal.

Lisa’s Story: Gastroparesis

By Maureen DeGarmo and Lisa Mark, C.P.O.

What would you do if suddenly you were unable to eat or drink anything at all? Gastroparesis is a condition that paralyzes the muscles of the stomach and causes them to stop working. This condition makes it difficult or impossible to digest food.

August is Gastroparesis Awareness Month, recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on the Health Observances Calendar, which is designed to spread awareness of a variety of health conditions. Continue reading

How to Ask for Help During an Illness

By Maureen DeGarmo

When trauma strikes, our lives are flipped upside down. Priorities must change according to the effects of the trauma, whether it is caused by an injury or illness. But, how do Illness Warriors handle everything required of them? Child care, transportation, grocery shopping, meal preparation, doctor’s appointments and so on…the volume of high-priority to do items is very overwhelming. (Did you notice I did not even include laundry, house cleaning or self-care on that list?)

How does the victim of a trauma – or an ongoing traumatic illness – manage everything by themselves? The answer is, they don’t. They either get help, or are forced to let some things slide. What, then, is the best way to get help from friends and family? At Illness Warriors, we like the idea of Continue reading

25 Ways to Take Your Mind Off Your Pain

By Maureen DeGarmo and Lisa Mark, C.P.O.

Chronic pain can be a ruthless dictator, controlling many aspects of our lives. A pervasive and unwanted companion, it forces us to choose between fun activities and responsibilities; between doing what we want to do and what we need to do. Sometimes pain, nausea and exhaustion allows us to do nothing but curl up and ride it out. Other times, diverting attention can make pain a bit more manageable. Here are 25 methods to help manage pain.

  1. Meditate (Find a quiet place, close your eyes, and go to your happy place)
  2. Listen to a relaxation audio recording (some free ones are posted on YouTube)
  3. Start a gratitude list/calendar/bowl
  4. Do a good deed for someone
  5. Talk to a trusted friend
  6. Write in a journal
  7. Stretch
  8. Listen to a comedian
  9. Make someone else laugh
  10. Play with pets
  11. Snuggle the cat
  12. Snuggle a small child or a baby
  13. Watch a favorite movie or show
  14. Listen to a book-on-tape
  15. Read a good book
  16. Write a thank-you note
  17. Listen to music
  18. Sing a favorite song
  19. Peruse old photos
  20. Make cookies for a neighbor
  21. Sit under a tree
  22. Eat lunch outside
  23. Listen to nature sounds
  24. Take a bubble bath
  25. Get a pedicure

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15 Things You Can Do for Your Friend with Chronic Illness

By Maureen DeGarmo and Lisa Mark, C.P.O.

  1. Invite her to an event, even if you know that she cannot come.
  2. Offer to bring dinner and a movie on a Friday night.
  3. Take her kids on an outing.
  4. Ask thoughtful questions, and then listen to the answers.
  5. Refrain from judging.
  6. Refrain from suggesting the latest treatment. She may have already tried it.
  7. Keep her updated on what is happening in your life. Isolation makes the disease worse.
  8. Avoid saying, “I know how you feel.”
  9. Make a specific commitment, such as calling once a week to check in.
  10. If she likes dogs, but doesn’t have one, bring your dog over for a visit.
  11. Or your cat.
  12. Share photos of your latest adventure or your children’s activities.
  13. Better yet, share photos of her children’s activities, especially if she cannot attend.
  14. Ask her if locating resources would be helpful. Then, follow through. The Illness Warrior’s Resource List is a great place to start.
  15. Ask her what she needs you to do, and then do it.

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How to Talk About Your Pain Without Whining

2016-sept-talk-of-pain-without-whining

By Maureen DeGarmo

You’re in pain all the time. Many of your friends are not, and they don’t understand. How do you open up to them without sounding like you’re complaining?

This is a difficult question and one that I have personally struggled to answer. I want to be sure that I don’t alienate my friends by monopolizing their time discussing nothing but my illness. Asking about their life certainly helps balance the conversation, but that does not help me decide what to share about myself.

A recent column by Carolyn Hax, a columnist with the Washington Post, provides some very clear guidelines. She recommends: Continue reading

Chronic Illness or Traumatic Illness?

By Maureen DeGarmo

A Chronic Illness is one that persists for three months or more, or for a lifetime. It cannot be prevented by a vaccine or cured by medication, nor will it just disappear. A person with a chronic illness needs to constantly manage this condition (sources: MedicineNet.com and The Free Dictionary).

A Traumatic Illness is any type of illness that impacts the person’s life in a way that changes how they live. Continue reading

When Your Body Just Won’t

Woman with hair covering her eyes

By Lisa Mark, C.P.O.

I was raised to believe that if there is a will, there is a way. This outlook enabled me to support myself through college, to accept a job working in high tech, about which I knew nothing, to advocate for my older daughter’s medical needs when she was a baby (while having a managed care medical plan that was paid for NOT treating her), and to start and run my own business despite not having a clue what I was doing. I’ve always been a bit stubborn, a bit strong-willed, and this outlook defined my life. For me, I had the will, and therefore the way to accomplish what I needed to do.

But as far as my body is concerned, where there is a will no longer means there is a way. Continue reading