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Grieving the Loss of a Healthy Body

Amy Keys

Some people honestly don’t remember a time when they were symptom free and healthy.  For others, a condition may have come on suddenly.  No matter how adaptable and flexible your personality may be, illness is guaranteed to be an adjustment.  Most likely it will include going through the grieving process.  Not only is that ok, but it is also necessary for a healthy mental state. 

Before I became ill, I had tummy problems off and on, and some pain, and issues with sleep, but I had good health overall and was living the busy life of a 29-year-old.  Enter dysautonomia.  When any form of dysautonomia is in full force it affects so many different parts and systems of the body.  Like most people newly diagnosed, my daily focus became taking medications, resting, drinking water, logging heart rate, measuring blood pressure, attending physical therapy and countless specialist appointments and testing on a regular basis.

With my health changing, I tried to remain positive and as symptom-free as possible.  I write a blog and I focused my writing on the importance of choosing to find joy.  While there is nothing at all wrong with working at a positive approach for coping with illness – attention also needs to be paid to the very natural emotions that come with loss.  I began to feel out of control in my life and questioned my worth and value.  Eventually I found a psychiatrist to talk to who helped me understand the grieving process and how important it is for mental health.   I had never considered that I would need to take the time to grieve for what “used to be” or that I would need to pay as much attention to my mental health as I do my physical.  Both are essential to having the balance and rational outlook on life that we all deserve.

There are five stages in the grieving process:

  •  denial
  •  anger
  •  bargaining
  •  depression  
  •  acceptance. 

There are no hard rules for how to go through these stages. Everyone goes through the process in their own way.  But there are also no shortcuts.  It is a natural desire to want to get on with life as soon as possible.  To try and jump to “acceptance” and skip the difficult steps in between.  But that only leads to suppressing the feelings of anger and depression that are natural and inevitable.  Jumping past the stages proves only to be counterproductive.

It’s ok to admit that you feel overwhelmed and a little bit scared. After all, every aspect of your life has changed.  It’s ok to be sad at times too.  It’s alright to worry about the future and how things will work out.  It’s normal to be mad or upset at times.  Without allowing yourself to face these feelings it is impossible to be able to move forward and cultivate a healthy mental state.  Another point to note, is that once this process is complete it doesn’t mean that you are done.  Grief does not unfold in fixed phases.  There may be specific days that remind you of something you used to do in a healthier time that you can’t do now.  The grief cycle will start over again multiple times throughout your life.  That is normal.

I am about a year and a half out from my hospital stay and diagnosis.  My very active lifestyle has changed significantly to a more sedentary one and with that has come some weight gain.   Little by little, I have cleaned out my dresser to remove clothes that are now two sizes too small.  I’m proud of myself for being brave enough to work on this project.  But, to be completely honest, I’ve cleaned out every drawer but one: my work clothes drawer.  I miss my job terribly and it’s just too difficult for me to get rid of all of my work clothes right now.  The truth is that if I was miraculously cured tomorrow and re-hired the next day, none of those clothes would even fit me.  It’s not the clothes that I am hanging on to, it is the memory of the “old” me. The pre-dysautonomia “me”.  I will clean out that drawer eventually, but it will be on my time.  Because this is all a part of grieving and all our journeys are different.

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