Emotional Wellbeing

Mandy Kloppers

Chronic illness and being ambitious

It’s a tough gig when you have a chronic illness and you are also ambitious. The two are really at odds with each other and it can take mental strength to navigate the tightrope between without major frustration.

This has been on my mind because I was admitted to hospital 2 nights ago. Nothing quite brings me back down with a thud like going into hospital. It’s back to the basics – fighting these tiny bacterial critters colonising my lungs and stopping me from breathing freely.

When I inhale bacterial infections, the excess mucus in my lungs makes it a great habitat for all sorts of bacteria that healthy lungs can expel. This bacteria seems to have had a free ride for three months and after three successive bouts of flu it has caused enough hassle for me to need to go on intravenous meds to clear out my lungs.

Whn I arrived in hospital, I was so dehydrated that it took 6 attempts to get an IV line in and my oxygens saturation level was down to 91% (above 95% is considered normal). I had lost my appetite and had been sleeping so much thatI didn’t drink enough fluids.

Having a chronic health condition lurks, it’s a constant reminder to me that I am fallible. It reminds me that I can’t always be strong and I can often feel a pull to the dark place. Negative thoughts creep in – Is this when I start to get ill and can’t get well again? Is there where I begin to feel helpless?

Yep – we all have those scary thoughts that leads us to feeling even worse and it takes a strong mind to turn that tune out and replace it with a more optimistic beat.

Thankfully, I usually don’t stay in the datk place but I do go there. No one is impervious to stress anf fear – not even therapists with all their psychological ‘tools’. I wanted to share this because if you ever get into that same scary place where you doubt yourself or where your see your options diminishing, try to relax.

Remind yourself that the way you perceive reality is the way it is – you can also choose to look at it differently. If you believe your life is a catastrophe, it will be that way while you think it. The more you focus on why it’s a catastrophe the more real it will become, with that thinking will be a negative related emotion that is generated and the worse it will get. I can choose that dreaded pessimistic ‘thought station’ or I can retune to one that sends me more optimistic messages. Ones like, “You’ve survived worse, you can do it again.”, “You won’t feel this way tomorrow or the day after”…there are many ways to alter the message.

Don’t get stuck on the same channel! I have learned not to automatically accept my thoughts and this is a good skill to learn. You can bet that you will get days when the thoughts are overwhelming you and you just feel low but if you can retain that little bit of distance and know that it’s your thoughts creating the issues more than the actual situation, it can make a difference.

Sure, I am still in a hospital room and frustrated that I can’t see my clients next week and carry on as normal but it won’t do me any good to keep resisting what I can’t change. Instead, I try to accept that this is how it is for now and I try not to engage in too much “what if” type thinking.

Staying strong psychologically is more than half the battle when it comes to coping with chronic illness. If you think you’re licked, you start losing your grip. I get ‘out’ of my web of thoughts – distract myself with movies, apps on my phone or any other way to keep my mind off the negative stuff.

Life doesn’t have to be one or the other. I can be ambitious and vulnerable too. They aren’t mutually exclusive. Black and white thinking is dangerous because life is so many shades of grey.

See all the different sides of you as acceptable. They are part of unique human recipe that made you so original and wonderful!

Embrace the busy times, embrace the slow times…they are equally important. Think of them as the four seasons – natural and part of this process called life.

Mandy X

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