Happiness and Chronic Illness Grief

I am no stranger to grief. In fact, it’s a regular visitor, especially at the moment when my functioning is almost as low as it’s ever been. However, I will proudly state that I am happy. Today I want to talk about how happiness and chronic illness grief do not have to exclude each other.

I think that the main reason that I am able to be happy, even when I experience grief almost on a daily basis, is that I’ve learned to process my grief very quickly. I’m very practiced at it. It doesn’t mean that it comes any less painfully or any less regularly, but it does mean that I don’t get stuck with the feeling. Mostly, nowadays, I can move through a period of grieving in a matter of minutes.

A few days ago, I was feeling particularly happy because I was feeling well enough to go for a short walk. It was a beautiful day and the cherry blossom is out in our neighbourhood at the moment. Then all of a sudden, a wave of grief hit me with the realisation that the best view of my road, where you can see a long stretch of it, lined with cherry blossom trees, was beyond my 250m radius. (At the moment I can’t walk more than 500m without crashing the following day). Sometimes I would choose to push my limits to lift my spirits, but I knew I had a relatively busy week and I just couldn’t deal with that in a crash, so I had to accept missing out on that view. That acceptance was only partial at first though, as my mind made one of the cardinal happiness mistakes, that of drawing a comparison. The thought arose that just two years ago, I would have been able to walk far enough to see it. The resulting feeling was one of acute sadness.

pinterest image showing cherry blossom relating to the grief of not being able walk far enough to see it.In those moments, I knew that if I pushed that feeling away, it would dampen my enjoyment of the cherry trees that I could see on my little stroll. I faced the feelings head on, allowed the tears to well up in my eyes and trickle down my face, offering myself acceptance and compassion for the feeling of missing out and the feeling of loss of ability. I felt the feelings fully and allowed them to flow and within less than a minute they passed. I then refocused my attention on what I could enjoy in this moment and right in front of me was a beautiful tree.

I’m not going to lie, it has taken years for me to get to a point where I can process my grief so quickly, it takes a lot of practise, but a person with a chronic illness has a lot of opportunities to practise!

There are three key skills involved in being able to process difficult feelings.  We need to learn to fully accept and embrace the feeling, allowing it to be with us in that moment. We need to learn how to offer ourselves compassion for what we are feeling, and we need to learn how to avoid adding additional meaning that will hook us back into the feeling. A fourth skill, that can also help, is recognising and trusting that everything is temporary, everything changes.

All these are skills that can be practised with mindfulness meditations, but first, many people find that they need to learn that they are worthy of their own compassion. Many people also need help learning how to overcome their fear of painful feelings, trusting that they will flow and pass and that they won’t get stuck in the pain. If that’s you, know that you are not alone, there are many people out the who can help you with this (including me) so don’t be ashamed of seeking support. Life will be so much better once you have learned to let your feelings flow!

To me, happiness is all about having pleasant and satisfying feelings most of the time and feeling confident that when the unpleasant and unsatisfying feelings come, they are just temporary fleeting things that will soon be gone. There are many more skills involved in being happy when you have a chronic illness (this post and this post will give you a good summary) but today I wanted to tell you that you can be happy even though grief will probably never go away completely. If you’re feeling stuck with your grief right now, please understand that you don’t have to be. Chronic illness doesn’t have to mean living in a perpetual state of grief, there is another way!

If you’d like to find out more about how I could help you learn to process your grief more effectively, use my contact to form to get in touch and we can arrange a 15 minute chat to discuss it.

2 thoughts on “Happiness and Chronic Illness Grief”

  1. Great post, Julie! I wrote something similar titled ‘Happiness & Pain Can Co-Exist’… So not quote grief, but the understanding that conflicting emotions can live together, and that’s totally okay.

    Another thing is, after all these years, I find happiness to be overrated. Contentment is more fulfilling long-term state to be in for me, as there is a certain acceptance and humility to it.

    Sending good thoughts!

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