How Chronic Illness Can Steal Your Sunshine

Donna Sullivan
Written by
Donna Sullivan

I have always considered myself a happy and optimistic person. Not necessarily sunshine and unicorns, but definitely a glass is always half-full type. But lately, I have felt like I have been carrying a bit of a dark cloud around me, and it’s casting a shadow on my relationships and psyche.

How do you respond when someone asks how you’re doing?

This simple question can actually be quite problematic when you live with a chronic illness. Do you tell the truth or sugar coat it? How much of your personal burden can you truly share?

As a caregiver raising two children who live with pain conditions, I can tell you that if I kept answering truthfully, I would probably lose all my friends. At first, I thought sharing would be helpful, but I soon realized that it was becoming ALL that I was talking about, and it was bringing me down.

Chronic illness can be sneaky when it comes to your mental health. Everyone encourages you to be positive in the face of adversity, but it isn’t always easy. The worry and sour emotions were eating away at my focus, and killing my productivity. I wasn’t depressed as much as just, negative. Easily annoyed, and definitely not myself. I was in a slump.

And that is when I realized that I needed to be a duck.

A wise friend once pointed out that from a distance, a duck on the water appears calm and peaceful. Yet when you get closer, you see how wildly their webbed feet are splashing and how hard they are actually working to keep that little duck body afloat. I can relate. I am sure you can too.

How is it going? …… “Just Ducky!”

I look fine, but I am actually working really hard to appear that way. The added stress, management, time, therapies, appointments, and lifestyle modifications that take place below the waterline may be frantic. But above the waves, I want to be graceful and glide.

So I started by collecting inspiring quotes, and made an effort to take a walk and claim quiet time each day. I talked to a counselor who provided the perfect place to dump all my negativity, and then be able to walk away from it. I made a bigger effort to find other things to talk about by engaging more in my interests and giving my brain a rest from thinking about illness. And over time, I began to feel better.

I even found a new website Happify that features games designed to train your brain to be more positive. It is one of several websites, based on neuroscience, that are part of the growing trend of positive psychology. Ironically, I approached the site with a lot of skepticism. But must admit, I am now hooked.

Recognising the toll chronic illness was taking on my mindset prompted me to redirect my mental energy in a more healthy and optimistic way. Today, even though there are days that I may have to kick harder than others to stay afloat, I can honestly say I feel much more positive and content. I am not saying that venting doesn’t have its place. But for me, it needed to be contained so that it didn’t take over the whole pond.

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