Choosing to Challenge the What-Ifs of Chronic Illness

What if I can’t take care of my kids? What if I can’t do my daily activities? What if this is my life now?

I recently found out that I have a rare and serious disease that mimics a stroke. I spent four days in the hospital and have had recurring episodes since returning home. Combined with my already present anxiety, I’m a little bit freaked out. And that’s a ginormous understatement.

Of course, stress is a trigger for this new disease (known as hemiplegic migraines if you’re curious), so I just need to stop worrying about it. And that’s super simple, right? Just turn my brain off and everything will be great? Unfortunately, that’s not how anxiety works.

Choosing to Challenge the What-Ifs of Chronic Illness

Due to hemiplegic migraines being incredibly rare, I’m guessing that most of you reading this don’t suffer from those. But maybe you suffer from chronic classic migraines. I’ve had these since I was a teenager. I consider them to be much more painful, but less scary than my current migraines. Or maybe you suffer from another chronic disease or from some other serious health diagnosis, injury, etc.

The problem with anxiety is that it’s easy to go down very bad roads. And once you start down them, it’s hard to turn around.

I think that’s always true about anxiety, but I’ve found that it’s exponentially true with this diagnosis. My first problem is that in order to learn more about this disease, I read about a lot of “rare, uncommon” side effects. I feel certain I’m going to experience every single one of them.

In my desire to find support from other people suffering, I see the worst of the worst cases of people who are regularly in a coma or can’t leave their wheelchair and have had to change their entire lives.

I need to make plans for possible episodes I might experience (like having child care lined up), but it’s very hard to walk the line of making realistic plans in case of incidences without becoming obsessive over every possible terrible outcome.

How do I try to get through this anxiety?

  • My faith is strong and I pray a lot.
  • Immediately cut off any thought that I know may lead me down a bad path. Just completely cut it off and don’t let it take root in my mind or heart.
  • Ask new questions that challenge the what-ifs: “What if these replace my chronic migraines and end up not being as bad?” “What if this becomes an experience I can use to help others?” “Well, what if this is the push I need to slow down my way too busy life?” I vow to turn my what-ifs into positives instead of negatives.
  • Finally, get help when I need it. I will not be able to fight this battle alone. We have already had a meal train, friends watching kids, friends offering to clean our house, friends to sit and talk and listen. And I am taking them up on anything that I think would be helpful because I recognize (though trying not to focus on it) that this could be a long road.
Have you ever had an illness, injury, or another traumatic event in your life that caused a lot of “what ifs?” What were your best strategies for coping as you adjusted? I’m still struggling, so please barrage me with every idea you have.

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