At the end of September 2014, my life was fantastic. I was doing what I love the most – helping other people. My therapy practice was going great, my clients were making me proud, and I was writing two more books on addiction.
At the beginning of October 2014, my life started to change. I started to get severe dizzy spells. As time went on, things worsened. I started dropping things, forgetting things, feeling overwhelmed with fatigue, getting a numb face and tremors. By January 2015, I had to get a brain scan to make sure I wasn't having a stroke.
By February, I had to stop working due to my symptoms, which had become a 24/7 problem only temporarily masked by a massive amount of medication and a smile when I could manage it. In July 2015, I had finally been diagnosed. I don't have anything life-threatening, but it is debilitating. It's now been three years since I got sick, and I don't know how long it will last.
It may seem very unfair - after having my teens and 20s blighted by poor mental health and addiction - for me to recover, build a wonderful new life full of purpose, only to then get very physically sick. But I hope I can use my current experience to offer some advice on how to get through tough times, just as I have with my addiction. So here goes...
1. Pain is Inevitable – Suffering is Optional
It's not unfair that I am sick. Life is, by it's nature, random, uncontrollable, and sometimes very painful. Despite the pain, we can reduce our suffering by the way we approach our difficulties and pain. I don't see my illness as a punishment. It doesn't make me a victim or a bad person. It makes me someone who got ill, as all human beings get ill. There are others who have illnesses and my own difficulties means that I can be more compassionate towards them. Don't make tough times worse by having a negative mindset – be kind to yourself and others. Be at peace with life sometimes being painful.
2. Resistance is Futile
To quote The Borg, if something is happening that is totally out of your control, there is not much point fighting it. Resisting the inevitable will only make you feel frustrated and weak. Instead, use some mental Jujitsu and use the power of your feelings about what you are going through as a plinth to build resilience, or as a powerful motivator to become a better, stronger person. Use the experience as a platform for learning. I, for example, am learning that I shouldn't attach so much to my plans ‒ no-one knows what tomorrow will bring. Acceptance is one of the most powerful tools there is. Start from where you are, not where you wish you were, and grow from that place.
3. Become More Mindful
I feel awful. I really do. My life is just one long barrage of awfulness. But wait a minute. Today I have managed to write two blog posts. I was too ill to do that yesterday. I couldn't even walk to the shower this morning. Yes, life changes ‒ and sometimes it's a good thing. Learn to notice the good parts among the bad and you'll realise that however tough things are, there are always good days, hours, minutes, and even seconds, if you look carefully and mindfully. Notice the moments of reprieve, the things you can be grateful for, the kind people, the small achievements and moments of happiness.
4. Use Your Resources Wisely
There may not be anything you can do about the situation you have found yourself in, but there may well be things you may be able to do to improve your lot. Instead of moaning or worrying about the things you can't change, save your energy and use it to look for solutions. As I was stuck in bed most of the morning, I used that time to look up things that might help my condition and connected with others with the same illness on a forum to ask my own questions and also offer them some support. Beats sitting around cursing my illness and wishing I felt better. Wishes waste energy. Only action can move you forward. Do what you can, when you can, to make things better, rather than dwelling on the toughness of your situation.
5. You Are Stronger Than You Think
Many people seem to believe that everyone else in the world is some kind of emotional Gladiator and they are only a weak little thing who can't cope as well as others. It's simply not true. Human beings have an amazing capacity for getting through things. And that includes you. If I look back to my previous life as an alcoholic with a massive anxiety disorder, I don't know how I got through that terrible time. At my worst, I weighed 6 stone, my hair was falling out in clumps and I was too afraid to leave the house most days. But I did get through it. I healed and here I am to tell the tale. At the moment, I sometimes feel like I won't make a 4-minute walk without falling over. It's difficult to be so ill, but I know I will get through it too. I only have to look at the things I've already got through to know that I can do this as well. Believe in yourself, and you can get through the toughest things that life throws at you. You can do it, even if it means just putting one foot in front of the other until you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
by Beth Burgess, Therapist and author of The Recovery Formula, The Happy Addict, and What Is Self-Esteem?