I know that on the face of it, getting diagnosed with a chronic illness is not A Good Thing. Who wants to learn they have a condition that is probably not curable and that they’ll have to learn to manage for the rest of their lives, right?! Well, I’d argue that you shouldn’t hate your diagnosis. You should embrace it. Here’s why:
Many chronic conditions first present with symptoms that seem random and unrelated. This can include all manner of complaints, like digestive upsets, headaches, aching joints or numb fingers. It very often involves extreme tiredness. Many early symptoms have something in common; they can masquerade as several other illnesses and are hard to pin down.
People can suffer for months, unsure of whether to see a doctor or not. Sadly, many women report that when they do visit the doctor, they leave feeling unheard and dismissed. They try to manage these strange symptoms, and the general feeling of being unwell, by themselves.
Think back to when your own symptoms first appeared. Some conditions present with rather alarming early symptoms – passing out or experiencing unexplained pain, and in these cases, people tend to seek medical input early on. But it’s just as likely that your symptoms were mild and a bit vague. You probably put up with them for a while before you realised that they weren’t getting any better and that you really should go and see the doctor.
But what do you do when your deteriorating health is starting to impact your life, and your doctor won’t listen to you?
Realistically, most people will do one of two things: either refuse to accept their doctor’s dismissal and demand they investigate further, or go home, try to cope, and quietly wonder if maybe they’re going mad.
Questioning your doctor is not easy. It takes real confidence to articulate how you’ve been feeling and insist on further investigations. When you’re already feeling unwell and vulnerable, it’s even harder.
So, I believe that most women who are dismissed by their doctor don’t want to kick up a fuss, and they feel they have little choice but to try to cope. And this sort of works … until it doesn’t.
Untreated symptoms are likely to get worse, and you’ll probably end up missing important events, staying at home more, and withdrawing from people. Partly because you don’t feel well, and partly because you can’t explain to people why you’re not your usual self. As your world gets smaller, you’re likely to wind up feeling unsupported, worried, and alone.
I think many women, all over the world, are living with an undiagnosed health condition and know how that feels.
Over time, the symptoms will inevitably become unmanageable, and the sufferer will return to their doctor, now desperate for help. By this point, the persistence of symptoms and effects on quality of life is hopefully enough to convince a doctor that more investigations are needed.
Of course, some people have a much more positive experience in seeking help, and there are undoubtedly some fantastic doctors out there who are willing to listen to their patients’ concerns and support them in getting to the bottom of what’s going on. However, there are also plenty of reports of women getting dismissed with ‘it’s just anxiety’ or ‘it’s all in your head’ (which is an entirely irresponsible and misguided response in most cases).
Whichever route your path to diagnosis has taken, when you finally get confirmation that you have a medical condition that explains everything you’re going through, the relief can be immense. It’s not in your head! You’re not going crazy! There really was something wrong all this time!
That’s not to say that it’s good news to be told you have a chronic illness, but it is good to have some answers.
Your diagnosis is the start of your journey to wellness. It starts the process of learning about your condition, how it affects your body and most importantly – what you can do about it. Even though there is often no cure or endpoint for a chronic illness, there are so many things you can do to help your body cope and thrive.
Resenting your chronic illness doesn’t change it. You can’t find a way forward if you’re using all your energy in wishing it would go away. Your journey to diagnosis was probably not smooth, but you found the strength and persistence to get there anyway. The next step is to draw on that same strength to embrace diagnosis and face it head-on.
Diagnosis is the first step in building your new life.
The Weekly Wellness Tracker helps you identify your triggers so you can make instant changes to help you feel better. Download it for free here.
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