'Grief' is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as 'intense sorrow, especially caused by someone's death'. We very often think of grief as the process of dealing with the loss of a loved one, but rarely loss in general.
The diagnosis of a chronic illness brings with it a huge number of losses. Esther Smith once said: "I have spent many hours trying to understand what makes chronic pain so difficult to understand, and I think one small piece of the puzzle is that it is hard to explain how much we have lost."
I couldn't agree with this more. Due to chronic illness, I lost my previous appearance and identity. I lost friends who didn't understand. I lost the certainty of the future I had imagined for myself, my career, my sense of freedom and confidence. I lost my health, and with it the control over my own body. One of the biggest challenges that I have faced while coming to terms with my diagnosis of Crohn's disease has been these losses and the accompanying emotions. When something bad happens, people very often hit you with the phrase "at least nobody died", but when you're diagnosed with a chronic illness, it sometimes feels like somebody did. I had to say goodbye to the me who didn't have a chronic illness, forever. I'm grieving for the old me, and that's okay.
It wasn't until my Crohn's and Colitis UK volunteer training last year, where we discussed the five stages of grief, that I realised that grief was exactly what I had been going through - and it wasn't wrong or shameful to say so. The five stages of grief are said to be denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. At first, I spent my days wandering around with this new label refusing to really believe what was going on inside me. I was never sick; these things just didn't happen to me. When things got worse and I realised it really was happening to me, I was angry. I cried "why me?" most days, and wondered what on earth I did to deserve it. I have experienced bargaining too. I've thought that if I didn't take those antibiotics, if I didn't take my health for granted, then maybe it wouldn't have happened. I've struggled with depression and I've felt hopeless. But I've also gained a whole load of acceptance for my illness. I'm thankful for the strength it's given me, and the people it's brought me too.
Needless to say, everybody experiences grief differently, and although I have been through all of these stages, the process is not always as clear cut as that. I still have days where I want to shout "why me?!", and I still have days where I would love to go back to when everything was so much easier. It's okay for my grieving process to not be linear, but most of all it's okay to grieve. Two and a half years after my diagnosis, I feel like I am much closer to acceptance. But with each passing day, the ups and downs and unpredictability of Crohn's, it is okay for other emotions to come back. So much has changed for me in those two and a half years, and I'm proud of the person that I've become. If it wasn't for my chronic illness, I wouldn't be the strong, empathetic, open-minded, make-the-most-of-every-day kind of person that I am. When I talk to people about my illness, I am very often met with confusion or pity. You should know that you shouldn't feel pity, because I don't either. This is my life now, and it's a bloody good one at that.
HuffPost UK Lifestyle has launched EveryBody, a new section calling for better equality and inclusivity for people living with disability and invisible illness. The aim is to empower those whose voices are not always heard and redefine attitudes to identity, lifestyle and ability in 2017. We'll be covering all manner of lifestyle topics - from health and fitness to dating, sex and relationships.
We'd love to hear your stories. To blog for the section, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line 'EveryBody'. To flag any issues that are close to your heart, please email email@example.com, again with the subject line 'EveryBody'.
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