The Chronic Illness "Blahs" - Depression, Anxiety, and Doubt
I was in a funk lately. I know, I hate to use that term because it sounds like I’m 100 years old, but it’s the perfect word for it.
What does it mean? Well, it doesn’t mean I was walking around, rocking out to George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic in a purple crushed velvet hat and suede bell-bottoms.
It just means I had a few days of what I call the “blahs,” something that many people with chronic illness experience from time to time, or more.
RA & mental health
I’ve been lucky when it comes to mental health. Whether it’s my naturally sunny disposition or, more likely, the copious amounts of pain medicine I take on a daily basis, my mental state has rarely been an issue.
I mean, I’ve suffered pretty much everything else but the kitchen sink when it comes to my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and its co-morbidities. But in that one area, I’ve been mostly spared.
I say "mostly" because even I, with my trademark humor and happy-go-lucky attitude and handsomeness, have some days where I get hit by, as I said above, what I call the “blahs.”
Chronic illness comes with feelings
What are the "blahs?" Well, it’s when those feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, pain, depression, and fear finally bubble over and spill into my daily life.
There isn't much time to wallow
I then have to battle until I can wrangle the lid back on that particular pressure cooker, which usually takes 2 or 3 days.
More often than not, it’s because I am distracted by another fire that needs putting out, be it professional or personal, and I don’t have any more time to wallow.
Whatever it is that ends up jarring me out of that particular funk, it always reminds me how much of rheumatoid arthritis and chronic illness is mental as well as physical.
The trauma of chronic illness
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that being divorced doesn’t help.
Besides the normal feelings of failure and loneliness that it obviously elicits, it also means I have no one to talk to when the feelings I have about having no one to talk to about my feelings crop up.
Confused? Well, the point is being divorced didn’t help matters, but it certainly wasn’t the genesis of my blah days.
Things build up over time
After 30-plus years of hospital trips, late-night ER runs, surgeries, scares, and falls, there is definitely some built-up trauma.
In fact, anyone who says they don’t suffer from some mental trauma after years of chronic illness is either lying or is some sort of trauma-proof Russian bot.
Look, comrade, it comes with the territory – and how could it not? The events missed, the relationships lost, the careers destroyed - all in the name of rheumatoid arthritis.
Anyone would bend under the weight but, eventually, you build up a thick skin – thick enough to weather most of it without breaking.
Unfortunately, there are times when you just can’t Jenga the feelings of doubt, isolation, and anxiety any longer and suddenly, a messy pile of “blahs,” is staring you in the face.
RA adds inadequacy and self-doubt
"What are some of the thoughts that go through your mind when the blahs hit," I hear you asking, probably? Well, thoughts like:
"What if I end up alone for the rest of my life?"
"What if my illness gets really bad and I am bedridden?"
"What if I become too awesome and everyone gets jealous?" You know, the usual questions of inadequacy and doubt.
It keeps you awake, it makes you jealous of people on shows and even seeing someone else do your job more successfully than you raise questions in your mind about your potential for success.
During the blahs, anything and everything you see gives you pause, and not only is it exhausting but it can even affect your physical health.
How I try to escape feelings of despair
So how do you escape this pit of despair once you have inadvertently stumbled into it? Well, sometimes you get yourself out, and sometimes life forces you out.
Leaning into a new project
One thing that helps me a ton is distraction, many times in the form of a project.
Whether it’s writing a few, new articles or putting together a new video, throwing myself into work always seems to knock out the “blahs” within a few days.
It helps me realize just how good I am at what I do, and also how humble I am about my ostensible extraordinariness. Just so modest. The modest-est?
Anyway, after a week or so, I get so caught up in whatever I’m working on and that, before I know it, the blahs are gone and my inexplicably large ego is right back where it belongs.
Life shakes us out of a blah-spiral
Sometimes though, as I said, life knocks you out of the “blahs” without you even trying. It can the tiniest of things that do it.
For instance, in this latest round of depression, I was jarred out by a short, one-sentence comment on one of my YouTube videos. It wasn’t overly gushing either, just a simple comment that said my product value was very high in ratio compared to the amount of dislikes I got.
I’ll spare you the video analytics lesson and just say that it was a compliment, and it was all I needed to remind myself that what I’m doing has merit, and people like it.
To that person, it was a five-second, off-hand kindness. But it was enough to shake me out of the blah-spiral I had been in for the previous few days.
Some happy time in between bouts of the blahs
Depression, anxiety, doubt, and loneliness come hand in hand with rheumatoid arthritis and chronic illness, in general.
There just isn’t going to be any avoiding it. But, take some comfort in the fact that you aren’t alone – we all experience it, most times from the day we are diagnosed.
You weather it the best you can and hope that you get some happy time in between bouts of the blahs. Talk soon.
What strategy to fight fatigue is most effective for you?