Chronic and Complex Health

There is an interesting point in chronic illness when you have got past the shock, denial, bargaining and anger stage and you have settled on sadness/numbness.

This stage is where the reality of your condition hits you the hardest. The life you had is gone. You can’t do the things you use to do the way you use to do them. You have to factor in this condition for the rest of your days (or for those with just a complex health issue, for a few years).

There are three common phases at this point.

Survival – Doing what you can to get through today, possibly tomorrow. There is no space to really think about next year. It’s just about surviving now.

Existential crisis – A sense of unreality where things stop having meaning, or the meaning of things has shifted. It’s like suddenly discovering that the thing you’ve been calling red all this time is actually green. You’ve woken up from the dream into the wrong world. You look at things that others are getting all anxious about, or slaving their guts out for and realise that it is all fiction. They have no idea what hardship actually means.

Attempted acceptance/planning – In moments where you realise that you’ve kind of got the hang of day to day management considering this thing, you start to wonder what next year is going to look like. You try to make guesses for long term set up and realise that you actually have no idea, because you’ve never experienced this thing before and your guesses now will be invalide next week. Because as your diagnosis sets in, and you’ve been scrabbling to make sense of it all, the situation is changing so rapidly that what was true yesterday is fiction today, and what is true today will be fiction tomorrow – or next week. Planning is a strange concept, but you keep trying.

Of course, you’ll also be flicking around bargaining and anger for a bit too.

For those of you who have experienced chronic illness or complex disease, you’ll recognise these phases.

People being affected by COVID-19 are going through this now. For those people recognising these phases because of COVID-19, you’ve just been given a deep insight into the flailing stage of chronic and complex medical health crises that many people experience.

When all of this settles down to a predictable life, try to remember this for when you come across people experiencing chronic and complex health.