The Mental Strain of a Chronic Illness.

Recently I joined a small group called “Deutsche to go” in order to improve my German speaking skills.  On the day before my first meeting, I found myself suffering from mental strain in the form of intense dread.  I didn’t want to go.  Not because I was lazy or too busy, but rather because I’d be trading more for that language session than 60 minutes and a cup of coffee.

I went anyway.  At the meeting, I suffered the mental strain of trying to pay attention, learn, and make conversation while dealing with pain and mental fogginess.  It took several hours for me to recover, physically and mentally, and in the end I decided (once again) to stop trying to learn German formally.

Unfortunately, every invitation I receive has to be weighed against the scales of my chronic illnesses.  Simple coffee meetups are no longer simple.  Well-intentioned dinner invitations are actually asking for a lot more from me than just dinner.  Even trips to the store can be overwhelming sometimes.  This is because going out costs me – and the currency is physical pain.  I have to decide if I really want to do something to the point where I’m okay enduring the discomfort that might last for hours or even days afterwards.


The Mental Strain of a Chronic Illness.


I have fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis; my body hurts almost all the time.  My fingers stay painfully swollen, my knees protest every time I walk somewhere, and my left shoulder is angry in general.  But it’s not just the physical pain that is likely to keep me home in bed; it’s the emotional and mental strain that accompanies it.  I become anxious about each aspect of an outing or trip.  How much pain medicine should I take before leaving?  Will I have to stand in a long line?  Will there be stairs?  What about cobbestones? I used to think they were so beautiful but now they have become an obstacle for me   What will I do if I can’t find a place to sit down?  What if the only chairs are small and rigid?  Will my companion understand my limitations?

You get the idea.

It’s exhausting.  Going out often leaves my mental and physical reserves on empty, especially when you combine physical illnesses with the strain of living in a foreign country.  After my aforementioned German language session I had to spend the entire day in bed.  I abandoned my attempts at getting things done because I was completely unable to tackle my to-do list.  No cooking, no cleaning, no writing.  I couldn’t think clearly because the pain brought about fibro fog – a common side effect of fibro that makes it difficult to concentrate.

Of course, I then became frustrated over my lack of control.  I was too angry at my situation to properly relax and recover.  I was regretting the cost of my decision and grieving the loss of my mental strength and physical abilities for an entire workday.

It’s not always so bad.  Sometimes my pain is minimal or I’m able to recover relatively quickly.  But longer trips and more adventurous travel is becoming challenging and even a bit scary.  For example, on a recent trip to Berlin I pushed myself past my limits and ended up a mile away from the hotel unable to walk.  It took me days to recover physically and the subsequent mental strain of dealing with so many physical issues led to a rough depressive episode after the trip.  I just didn’t have anything left to give in any medium – physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual.

The stress of dealing chronic pain and illness comes in waves.  I mentally prepare for my pain.  I research ways I can cope with my pain.  I endure my pain.  I watch my spouse endure my pain.  I go to my doctor and ask for help with my pain.  Sometimes, I’m unable to handle the pain.  I don’t know if I can get up and do it all over again tomorrow.


The Mental Strain of a Chronic Illness.


I experience fear and uncertainty about the future, too.  Will it get worse?  How will I handle it if it does get worse?   Thoughts and questions ricochet in my brain and quieting them takes even more of my mental strength.

Most days I struggle to take care of myself on the most basic levels (eating, drinking, bathing).  So I might not be able to meet you for coffee, or I might not be able to really concentrate on the conversation if I do come.  I’m not the most reliable version of me when I’m dealing with my chronic illness.

To the friends and family of chronically ill people, keep in mind that our chronic illnesses mean we have to overcome more than just physical obstacles.

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18 thoughts on “The Mental Strain of a Chronic Illness.

  1. I'm so sorry you have to go through this. When I first got to Germany (and still slightly to this day) I started experiencing some chronic pain (or maybe recurring is a better word), but I wasn't nearly as bad as fibromyalgia. It did seem to be stress-induced, though, so it would often flare up right when I was about to go out and meet someone or do some other activity that was outside my comfort zone/that involved speaking German, so I can relate to the emotional drain that you mention. I'm sending lots of positive thoughts your way and I hope that you can find relief from your pain!

    1. Danielle,

      Thank you so much for the encouragement. I think that the stress of moving to Germany was definitely a big part of why I started having so much pain (it started about two months after we moved here), so I'm not surprised to hear that you had some similar problems. It's worth it, though. 🙂

  2. I knew that you had pain and these problems but I hadn't thought through what that means for you on a daily basis – wow. I admire everything that you do despite it!

  3. I can identify with everything you have written here. Sometimes I am amazed at how complicated my simple life has become. Like you say even a dinner date is a huge battle. Lovely post, thank you so much for sharing. xoxo

  4. I can relate to so much of what you said. Other than the travel to Germany since I've never left the US. (Bucket list item for sure!) Thank you for sharing so openly. I think the pain and physical symptoms get addressed more than the anxiety and mental battles that come along with our illness and they can be just as big of a hurdle if not more so.

      1. Out of interest have you had full thyroid testing, not just the TSH, which is usually doctors only do, but these TSH, FT4, FT3, TT4, Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies,Thyroglobulin Antibodies, Ferritin ,Folate, Vitamin B12 (NOT ACTIVE B12), C Reactive Protein, Vitamin D (25 OH), REVERSE T3, Insulin, HbA1c, Magnesium. The thyroid testing plus the other issues such as Vit D, B12 and Iron, being low plus magnesium deficiency can all add up to an uninvestigated picture!

        1. I’d have to go check my blood reports, I’m not sure if I’ve had those tests run. I’ll take a look before my next dr appointment. 🙂

  5. I love your blog. Your words flow so easily and your storytelling is compelling! Beautiful post on such a hard reality!

  6. I know that feeling of dread all too well. Even simple activities can cause a flare, so I avoid a lot of stuff i would actually like to do.

  7. Thank you. I can relate to what pain you are going through and what my husband deal with. He has been my pillar of strength. Not everyone uderstand it. But thank you. God Bless.

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