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.
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.
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.The Mental Strain of a Chronic Illness. Click To Tweet
Backgrounds for both vertical images provided by Mypik.