Emotional? Physical Feelings? Both? Confused!

"I am so angry! This person just irritates me so much. I don't know why! He just does."

"I feel so sad today. I think I'm unhappy with my job or maybe I am unhappy with myself...I am not really sure."

"I just feel so depressed and I don't know why."

It is not uncommon for people who live with chronic physical illness to at times experience unwanted emotions (e.g. anger, sadness, depression) and to be unsure about where these feelings came from. Sometimes the person is able to identify the cause of their emotion and other times the person may remain very confused about their experience. Oftentimes, one thing that people who live with chronic physical illness are not uncertain about is their physical pain or discomfort. For example, one can identify pain in the muscles, or a headache, or complete exhaustion. So how are these two things related? Emotional pain and physical pain...are they so seperate after all?

It takes up a lot of emotional energy when a person who lives with a chronic physical illness suffers or hurts physically. The pain may be felt in a physical body part such as a chest or a kidney but that physical body part is also a part of the entire human. There will certainly be some emotional reaction to the symptom even if the person has experienced the same symptoms thousands of times. A person can think to him or her self with ease, "I know what I am feeling right now. It is my ____ acting up." However, intellectual understanding does not necessarily negate emotional feeling. Even if a person has experienced this symptom numerous times it may make him or her furious that he or she needs to deal with this regularly or maybe very sad about the limitations it imposes on his or her life. It is easy to ignore these feelings in the service of a "I am used to this, life goes on" attitude, but these feelings will not just disappear; they will express themselves in one way or another. For example, one's anger about having to deal with the illness symptoms may be displaced onto a coworker who suddenly irritates the person to no degree for absolutely no reason, or a piece of constructive criticism at work causes one to break down in tears, masking the underlying sadness about the chronic illness. Displacement of the feelings of one's suffering onto something else in the person's life can leave the person feeling very confused and disillusioned.

It is sometimes not easy for a person to really admit to him or her self that the physical symptoms of his or her illness are causing emotional reactions. People may think "this darn illness is hurting my body and now its causing me emotional pain too!" Some people may feel that admitting to the emotional effects of the physical illness is letting the illness "get the best of them." However, in a way the opposite is true. If feelings are not acknowledged and directly and appropriately expressed, they will find a way to manifest...usually in a displaced way. It may be difficult but it is worth the struggle to get to the point where one is able to say, "I am angry because I hurt so much today" or "I am really sad that I can't run like I used to" or "I am depressed that I cannot be there for my kids in the way that I really want to be." Sometimes one may need to seek professional help, as this process of acknowledging how the physical and the emotional dance together as one can be very difficult.

People can ignore the holistic nature of being human...the interconnection of physical and emotional; however, pretending that a duality between body and mind exist does not in fact create such a duality. The feelings will still be there and if expressed inappropriately and in a displaced manner may cause more confusion and problems for people than would have resulted from the acknowledgment of the feelings stemming from the physical illness. Yes it is not always an easy task as these feelings may oftentimes not even be conscious as they can be so painful. It is important to seek professional help if you see that your emotions have been causing problems in your life, your social relationships, or your job since you have been diagnosed with your illness. Maybe you do not have to remain confused.