Adversity is overrated.
I know it’s important and can lead to personal growth, but it feels terrible in the moment.
It’s especially bad when the adversity is caused by a chronic and debilitating illness like Meniere’s disease.
While it’s happening, adversity is almost always a miserable affair; often flavored with feelings of failure, guilt, shame, and a dash of regret. Nothing positive can ever be learned in the middle of a violent vertigo attack.
Really, nothing good can arise until long after the fact, and even then, there are no guarantees. To get to the other side of an adversity, we have to walk a long and painful road.
But it is possible to end up better off than you were before. In that way, adversity can be a very good thing. It can help you grow.
When you suffer from a chronic illness, you will have to face countless obstacles and undeniable hardship. But it doesn’t have to tear you down. You can endure, and over time, you can become a better and more resilient person.
But before we can learn from our obstacles, we have to learn to overcome them.
Share this if you or someone you love suffers from from a chronic illness.
The 3 Adversities Framework:
Chronic illness born obstacles come in all shapes and sizes. Yet most of the challenges and hardships that we face on a regular basis tend to fall in to one of three categories that define the nature of the adversity.
This is important to understand, because it offers us a framework to follow when we face hardship, when it’s difficult to think logically. In a moment of pain and suffering, we generally don’t think or act consciously at all – we react emotionally.
With a guiding framework in place, we can make better decisions and overcome any obstacle with ease.
Adversity #1 – Self-Inflicted Obstacles
A self inflicted obstacle is a setback that results from any of the following:
- Overindulging in something that you know to be harmful to your health and recovery
- Pushing yourself too far past your known limitations
- Inconsistency with the actions and behaviors that you know are beneficial to your health
In my experience, self inflicted obstacles are not the most difficult to endure, but often cause the most feelings of guilt and shame.
I try not to, but I get very angry with myself when I make this kind of mistake. After all, I should know better, right? When I feel like I caused myself the pain, it’s hard to let it go.
It’s also difficult to face a self-inflicted setback if things had been going well up until that point.
But the reality is that I didn’t choose to have a chronic illness – no one ever has. No one would choose a life of unwanted limitations willingly. And at the same time, no one is perfect.
Sometimes I push past my limitations for a good reason like seizing a rare opportunity. Other times, my will power slips away in a cloud of brain fog and fatigue and I make poor decisions that I know will have consequences.
But regardless of the reasoning behind the missteps that cause me pain, it doesn’t help to feel sorry for myself. The best way to overcome this type of obstacle is to rest and reset.
Give yourself permission to rest up and recuperate. Remember, resting serves a real purpose; it’s not laziness or procrastination, it’s medicine. If you pushed yourself too hard or overindulged, give yourself time to bounce back.
“You are strong when you known your weaknesses. You are beautiful when you appreciate your flaws. You are wise when you learn from your mistakes.” – Unknown
The other piece of the puzzle is to reset by implementing what I like to call a lifestyle cleanse. When you’ve lived with a chronic illness for a long time, you probably have a decent idea of what helps you to feel better and what makes you feel worse. A lifestyle cleanse is simply going back to the basics: ruthlessly avoid the things that make you feel worse and pursue the things that make you feel better. Once you start feeling better, you can return to a more relaxed discipline.
If you’ve slipped up and caused a self-inflicted obstacle, you’ll bounce back more quickly if you give yourself time to rest and reset.
Adversity # 2 – Obstacles Outside of Our Control
The second adversity of chronic illness pertains to any obstacle caused by forces outside of our control. For many of us, this is the most common type of obstacle we will face, and it tends to be illness specific.
For example, with Meniere’s disease, changes in the barometric pressure can trigger vertigo and other symptoms in many people. Obviously we can’t control the weather.
But this category isn’t strictly limited to illness related influences. Traumatic events, such as the death of a loved one or a pet, the loss of a job, or a major accident, to name few, are all major obstacles that are outside of our control. Really, anything that causes us to suffer undue stress, can be considered an obstacle outside of our control.
Overcoming this kind of adversity requires a different approach. And it’s often the hardest to endure. When our suffering is caused by forces outside of our control, we tend to feel powerless. Acceptance is the key, but it doesn’t happen all at once.
“When we no longer are able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor E. Frankl
The best way to overcome an obstacle that is outside of your control is to follow this simple strategy:
- Assess your situation: The obstacle might be caused by forces outside of your control, but you are not powerless. You may not have the power to make the problem go away but there are always steps you can take to improve your situation in some way. Your first responsibility is to assess your situation and figure out what options you do have.
- Alleviate your Symptoms/Pain: Once you have identified your options and decided on a course of action, the next step is to take care of yourself. Do what you can to alleviate your symptoms and pain. Get extra sleep, relax, and take the time to give yourself the love and care you deserve. Your wellbeing is a priority, and you should do what you can to make yourself more comfortable.
- Endure with hopeful optimism: Time is the ultimate factor in any obstacle outside of our control. Healing, both physical and emotional, can be a slow process. There will be times when you will have to simply endure. I know how hard it can be, but never lose hope. Better days will come eventually, and you will appreciate them with all of your heart. In the eternal words of the Buddha, “Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes.”
Adversity #3 – Obstacles of Regret
The final adversity of chronic illness is the one that tends to weigh the most heavily on our minds.
Obstacles of regret are internal, emotional obstacles that results of one of the following:
- Saying no to an opportunity because you are not well enough to participate
- Saying no to an opportunity because you are afraid to participate
- Having to prematurely end an activity because you are not well enough to finish
When you live with a chronic illness, you are forced to make hard choices. You may not have the energy to do all of the things you would like to do each day, or with your life in general. You may be heavily restricted in what you are still able to accomplish. You may often have to say no to opportunities.
Usually, it’s better to go with your gut and side with caution. But when you live with a chronic illness, chances are you also live with a heavy helping of fear. Fearing that your symptoms will flare up is a big one, but so is fear of failure, fear of the unknown, and fear of losing the things that matter most.
In the moment, this kind of obstacle can feel like a personal failure and cause us to feel saddened. No one likes to miss out. And in the long run, it can lead to regret.
“Regret for the things we have done will be tempered by time. It is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.” – Sydney J. Harris
When we are too ill to participate, we must endure, be kind to ourselves, and take solace in the fact that more opportunities will come.
But when it’s fear that stands in the way of opportunity, and if you are honest with yourself you may find this to be the case more often than not, there are steps you can take to conquer the fear.
The best way forward is to assess what it will take to get the most out of a given opportunity and plan for every possible outcome.
If you find that a given opportunity will require you to push past your known limitations, you will need to decide if it’s worth it. Fear will push you toward saying no. But if you have the opportunity to do something that you really want to do, sometimes it’s better to push yourself, even if it means causing a new self-inflicted obstacle.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. . . . The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela
The best way to seize an opportunity is to plan for every possible outcome. For me, this means having a plan to get home or to safety if my Meniere’s symptoms flare up suddenly. It means keeping medications and supplies with me to best handle any symptoms that might arise. It also means making sure that the people I’m with are aware of the possibilities and are willing to help me if necessary.
Because sometimes, it’s worth it to push yourself to have a good time, even if you have to rest and recuperate afterwards. For me, dealing with the consequences is often a better choice than living with regret.
Adversity caused by chronic illness may feel terrible while it’s happening, but it doesn’t have send you into a tail spin.
There will never be a shortage of obstacles, hurdles, and hardships to throw us off balance. But when you understand the 3 Adversities of Chronic Illness Framework, you will have a much better idea of how to handle yourself when you’re struggling.
If you can make it to the other side of an adversity, you will be better off than you were before. You will feel more confident in yourself, and your best days will be that much better.