For many people who have suffered chronic health issues, a return to health brings its own problems and it is this that I want to discuss here.
The effects of chronic illness don’t just happen overnight. Health slowly spirals downward over years, almost unnoticed, until it has an impact on daily life. Some cannot even continue their normal occupation. At this point, it can have a devastating affect. Those activities that you deem vital to your existence are either severely hampered or become impossible.
Let us consider Micaela. Her illness, when she looks back at her life, started during her teens but it was an irritation, not a disability at this time. Around twelve years prior to consulting me, life had become very difficult and she had multiple food sensitivities. Three years before our meeting, her circumstances had become so severe, that all her body would accept was rice. And this is what Micaela lived on. No job, just existing.
Try to imagine this. You know that you can’t live on just rice but you have to, or suffer the consequences. Micaela’s thoughts were about her health every single day and the only thing that she could depend upon if she was not to suffer migraines and stomach cramps, was rice.
As with many others suffering similar illnesses, Micaela’s became her life. It was never allowed to be in the background – doctors, tests, drugs and feeling ill ensured that it remained current and the only force in life that was constant. The frequent round of consultations with medical people, invasive and unpleasant examinations and being told that it “was all in her head”, all served to make her feel utterly let down and isolated.
Her life had been stolen from her, but she made the best job she could of what was left of it. When I told her that the food she relied upon was perpetuating the problem and that the rice had to go, it scared her. She was as dependent upon rice as a drug addict is upon their fix. Although after just 3 weeks of treatment Micaela had progressed from just rice to eating 40 nutritious and healthy foods, it was a further 3 months before she was able to gather all the packs of rice together and finally dispose of them.
I have seen this many times. Sufferers join self-help groups and adopt strategies and behaviours to accommodate their problem. Chronic illness will mess with the necessary nutrients for all body functions, so again there is a spiralling problem. One of the most debilitating effects of long term poor health is depression. This is due to the lack of nutrients to the brain as well as the tedium, frustration, the life altering distressing symptoms or more likely, all of these things put together.
A different consequence of an individual’s recovery involves the rest of the family. It is more often a spouse or partner that bears the brunt of these effects. Some years ago I treated a young man for obesity. He had been big for as long as he could remember and therefore he felt (as others do also) that it defined who he was as a person. His confidence and self-esteem were low, he dressed tidily but would never wear the trendy clothes that others of his age did. All this changed when he lost weight – for he had been redefined. I bumped into his wife a year or so later and sadly, they had split up. There is no blame to apportion here – this is human nature. This of course, is not an inevitable outcome but when you have been ill the whole of your formative life, it is common.
This last story has a warning – obesity (or rather the metabolic disease that it is) is just as much an illness as IBS and diabetes. When these problems are removed, there are adjustments to make and this can be extremely problematic.
When wellness becomes the norm instead of illness, the weight loss clubs, self-help groups, voluntary work – just everything that has previously filled the days, can become redundant. These may be replaced with a new job, meeting people, having a holiday and although this all sounds wonderful, they still have to be coped with.
To sum up, when someone has recovered from chronic ill health, it is often replacing one problem with another. It can of course be managed, but forewarned is forearmed.
July 2014 update on Micaela.
She is fit and well, eating lots of different foods but not grains for the most part. She has three jobs – two from home and one away. Life is good – her words!
I would like to thank Micaela Stafford for her permission to include some of her case history in this blog.