Emotions are complicated things, regardless of illness or trauma, pretty much anyone can agree on this. At times we will seemingly feel angry for no reason and when we pause to reflect on the “why” we draw a blank. So what happens when you throw in the trauma of being ill? Things become very complex.
The human mind has an incredible capacity for survival. It is built specifically to survive the most dire of conditions, to the point where the brain can hijack the higher functioning systems known as the prefrontal cortex in order to put us into fight or flight instead of hanging around weighing our emotional responses to the situation at hand. When it comes to emotions, our brain can even cut us off from feeling the full weight of our emotions, as these can be too crippling to deal with in tandem with the trauma. This can be seen in many different forms- shock, disassociation, numbing, having an extreme angering reaction that eclipses any other emotions and so on. There is no telling how one will react until they are in the very situation.
Many of us are faced with this emotional rollercoaster when we begin our process of feeling better. Our bodies move out of numbing survival, our cortisol levels begin to settle down and we can finally reflect on what we have been through. Through this time it is important to steer away from “shoulding all over ourselves.” Since we may be feeling better, we may tell ourselves things like “ I should be happier” or “ I should be feeling more grateful” “ I shouldn’t ever feel sad again, compared to where I was six months ago.” The problem with these “should” statements are they set unreasonable expectations that we simply cannot meet. We will set ourselves up to fail emotionally if we set up the expectation to never feel or express an emotion again.
The deal with having an illness is we are bound to have setbacks- we are bound to have fatigue which reminds us of when we were too sick to leave our beds, which may trigger an episode or feelings of depression. When it comes to living with a chronic illness or even recovering from a substantial illness, we can only learn to ride the emotional and physical waves, rather than struggle against them. Dealing with emotions is a lot like learning how to swim- the more you resist and struggle, the more energy and harm it will end up doing. However, once we can learn to swim or float along with the ups and downs, now when expecting rough patches we can eventually learn to swim rather than use everything struggling to survive moment to moment.
Alexis is an advocate for mental health wellness in the Lyme Disease community