Double Illness Double Trouble

Living with a chronic physical illness can involve frequent periods of muscle pain, joint pain, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, confusion, memory loss, weakness, among other symptoms. Some people who live with chronic illness experience one or more of these symptoms on a daily basis. It may be difficult to fathom how any person can cope with such a situation; however, human resiliency can be most surprising! Thinking of living with a chronic physical illness can seem so daunting that it makes little sense to think about what people living with chronic physical illness go through when they get sick with everyday illnesses, such as the common cold, flu, bronchitis, or sinus infection. However, the experience of double illness can mean double trouble for those living with chronic illness, in a variety of ways.

People vary in terms of how long it takes them to adjust to the particular chronic illness that they live with. Some symptoms can seem unbearable for months and years, but at some point many people learn to integrate their symptoms into their daily life. For example, pain may become part of one's existence...it becomes familiar. The predictability of the symptom may on some level even become comforting as it can be something that is understood, identified, and labeled. "Oh there goes my hair falling again. Must be X pill causing that like last time," Or "Darn my skin has itchy blots. I should have stayed out of that sun." This predictability does not in any way minimize the trauma and unfairness of having to live with these symptoms. Nobody should have to experience chronic illness. The intention is to illustrate that because living with chronic physical illness comes with so much uncertainty and unpredictability, a great need for understanding and predictability is usually present. Now imagine that a person who lives with a chronic illness wakes up one day and feels some random sensation in his or her chest. This can be extremely frightening. It is not one of the everyday, identified, and labeled symptoms that have become integrated into the person's daily life.

Until an explanation is provided, the person may become frightened that something is seriously wrong. Even after the reason for the new symptom is identified, for example the strange sensation in the chest being the result of bronchitis, which can easily be treated, the person may travel through an ocean of emotions. The person may start having generalized depressive thoughts such as, "everything bad always happens to me. I always get sick." The person may also blame and become extremely critical of him or herself, believing that an unrealistic kind of extra care must be taken since he or she already has an illness. The person's chronic illness symptoms, depending on the illness, may also become intensified, thrusting the person out of their integrated and somewhat controlled state of being, forcing him or her to deal with the feelings of uncertainty that comes with living with chronic physical illness.

Think about what it feels like to have the flu and to be bed-ridden for days or to have to get through a day with a pounding sinus headache...while NOT living with a chronic illness. Now imagine having to live with a chronic illness. Its easy to question, "why would anyone living with a chronic illness care about catching a cold when they have so much more to deal with?" Well that's just it--there is already so much to deal with. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness is traumatic in it of itself and every time another unpredictable sign of sickness reappears a possibility for retraumatization is presented in a variety ways,as described above. The process of accepting one's illness and symptoms is not an easy one. Nobody wants to relive that process every time they get sick.