How To Combat The "Why Me's"

If you have a chronic illness or suffer from chronic pain, you have no doubt asked yourself “why me?” at least once…or more likely, a hundred times. I know I have. This question usually comes when you are not feeling well, when things aren’t going as you planned, or when you are in pain. It is something that is hard to move past. It can be frustrating and all-consuming at times. It can be depressing and can provoke anxiety. Here are a few tips that I hope will help.

1. Learn to accept that you may never get an answer. For the majority of us, there is no answer to “why me?”. Unfortunately sometimes things just happen. Acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean “it’s okay”. I’m not asking you to say that it is okay that you have an illness or pain. When I talk about acceptance, I mean being able to make necessary adjustments in your life, learning your new normal, and learning that despite your chronic illness or pain you can still be happy. Learning to accept that you may never get an answer to why this happened to you will be a process. It is not something that will happen overnight. You may want to resist it and that’s alright. It is not fair that this happened to you but with some hard work, dedication and a little reorganization of priorities, it is possible to be happy and to accept not having an answer to “why me?”

2. Find meaning. Ask yourself what good could come out of your situation. I guarantee that if you are open to that question, if you take the time to think about it, and if you are honest with yourself, you will likely come up with at least one positive thing that has come out of all the bad. For me, the meaning in my situation is that I am able to counsel others with chronic illness and chronic pain. It is what I love to do and I have been able to take my own experiences and knowledge and help others. For you it doesn’t have to be something as big as a career decision. It may be something as simple as the fact that you now have more compassion for others, you don’t judge people as quickly as you used to, or that your illness or pain has taught you to appreciate the small things in life.

3. Find a passion for something. Try to focus your attention on something other than “why me?”. Find a hobby or a passion that will make you happy and take your mind off of “why me?”. It is okay if the question comes into your mind once in a while. When it is constant or interrupts your quality of life, your focus, or your happiness, that is a problem. Finding something that brings you joy will help you to cope.

4. Find support. You are not alone. As I stated above, the majority of us with a chronic illness or chronic pain have asked ourselves “why me?”. If you find that you are having difficulty with this question, find support, either with friends, family, a support group, or a therapist. Talking about what you are thinking and feeling can help greatly.

My Invisible Illness is Real

Most people who have an invisible illness (a chronic medical condition that shows no outward signs) have experienced these words at one point and time: "But you don't look sick." These words can be extremely frustrating. I often ask my clients, "What is the most difficult thing for you about having (Crohn's Disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS…)?" I can't tell you how many times I have heard the answers "It's hard to talk to people about what I'm going through because they tell me I don't look sick", or "My family doesn't always believe how bad I feel because I don't look sick", or "I've been told it's all in my head". I could go on. This is one of the difficulties those of us with chronic illnesses need to learn to overcome. The idea that people don't believe us because they cannot see our illness like they can see someone in a wheelchair or a like they can hear a chronic cough can feel isolating and depressing. Sometimes it can make us feel like maybe it really is in our heads. Maybe we aren't really as sick as we think. Instead of giving in to this, we need to fight back! Understand that these people aren't saying these things to be insensitive. They just don't get it. So educate them! Explaining to them what you are going through and why you don't look sick will not only educate them on something they are unfamiliar with, it can be empowering for you too. Also, trust yourself. You know how you feel. You know your illness. You know that it is not in your head. It is real.

The Importance of Choosing the Right Doctor

I have been thinking about this topic for quite some time. Not only have I recently had clients question their choice in doctors, I have been thinking about how lucky I am to have the team of doctors I do. I quite literally owe my life to my colorectal surgeon and his team as well as my gastroenterologist. I have complete trust in them and know they have my best interest at heart. That is very comforting.

When you are living with a chronic illness or chronic pain, choosing the right doctor can make all the difference in your treatment. So, with all of the doctors out there, how can you be sure you have chosen the right one for you? Here are some tips:

Do your homework: If you are searching for a doctor, make sure you do your research! Check out healthgrades.com, vitals.com, and other sites where patients can post reviews. Also, don't be afraid to make an appointment to interview potential new doctors. Ask the doctor any and all questions you need answers to in order to make a decision about who would be the best fit for you. If they value you as a potential new patient, they will take the five or ten minutes necessary to answer your questions.

Choose a doctor who specializes in your condition: If you have gastrointestinal issues, choose a gastroenterologist. If you have chronic pain, choose a doctor who specializes in pain management. You get the idea. I cannot express how important it is to have a doctor who specializes in the specific illness you are struggling with. General practitioners can be great for common colds, flu's and that sort of thing, but when you are dealing with something specific, such as Crohn's Disease, arthritis, chronic pain, etc. you need a doctor who knows everything possible about your condition.

Trust your instincts: If you have been seeing a doctor you are not happy or comfortable with, find another doctor! I know this sounds like common sense but I can't tell you how many clients I have seen who have stayed with a doctor they are unhappy with. To some degree I understand. Doctors are seen as authority figures so sometimes we question our own instincts when we feel uncomfortable with a doctor. We think it must be something within ourselves, not something with the doctor. Please know that if you feel that something isn't right or you are not getting the treatment you deserve or need, you are probably correct. Trust your instincts. Your health and happiness are on the line.

If you aren't sure, get a second opinion: If you have received a diagnosis you are unsure of or your doctor is recommending a procedure or surgery you are not sure you need, get a second opinion. The worst that is going to happen is that the second doctor will agree with your doctor. At least you will then have the peace of mind you need to move forward.

Ask your peers: If you are looking for a doctor, don't hesitate to ask people you know for a recommendation. You can also research Facebook groups or other online forums dedicated to people with your illness and ask individuals there for recommendations. Hearing the good, the bad, and the ugly from actual patients can be the best way to find a new doctor.

Appreciating Life

Ask anyone who has suffered with a chronic illness and I bet they'll agree that living with a chronic illness changes one's perspective on life. When things are bad, they're bad and it feels like they're never going to get better. But when things are good, you see life through a different lense than most people.

Although I've lived with rheumatoid arthritis since I was a baby, this new perspective on life didn't really hit me until about a year and a half ago when I started the process of the j-pouch surgeries. I think I didn't feel this way with the arthritis because it's something I have always lived with - I don't know life without the arthritis. When I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis my thinking was "well, just another thing to add to the list", meaning that my life changed a little bit but not significantly. However, when the last flare started and I began the process of the surgeries, my life was turned upside down. There have been so many ups and downs within the last year and a half that when I feel good I appreciate every second of it and want to take advantage of it as much as I can. I now appreciate the smallest things that most people don't even give a second thought - eating whatever foods I want, taking a shower, sleeping in my own bed, walking my dog, going to the gym. I find myself on a daily basis savoring that piece of chocolate just a little bit longer, or doing just a little bit more at the gym - because I can. And now I appreciate that I can.