Sink or Swim: What to Do When You’re Adrift in a Sea of Illness

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 21 October 2015
  • 3 minute read
Sink or Swim: What to Do When You're Adrift in the Sea of Illness | The Health Sessions

When you’re chronically ill, you’ll probably experience times when you feel like you’re adrift in a sea of pain, fatigue and debilitating symptoms.

In the distance, you can see people running and playing on the beach. But you’re too far out for them to hear you cry for help.

Confidently you start swimming towards the shoreline. It’s tiring and progress is slow, but you’re getting closer with every stroke.

Then, all of a sudden, an undercurrent gets you off course. You desperately try to fight it, but the pull of the water is just too strong. With every passing minute you’re drifting further out into the ocean.

Suddenly you find yourself in rough water. The waves seem to be getting higher by the minute and you’re struggling to keep your head above water. You’re cold, wet and exhausted from treading water and you start to panic. What’s happening? What should I do? How do I get out of here?

With all your might you try to push the thought of what might be hiding under the surface out of your mind.

Instead, you start pondering on solutions. Do I try to swim against the current and put all my power into peddling back to where I meant to go? Do I save my energy and drift along to wherever the wind and water takes me? Do I make a courageous attempt to dive through the oncoming waves, even though I have no clue how to do that or where I’ll end up?

The truth is, I don’t have the answer. Unlike the real world, there are no safety guidelines for navigating the sea of chronic illness. Here’s what I do know.

Try not to panic. That’s so much easier said than done when you have every right to be scared and stressed out. But losing your cool in this moment only leads to rash decisions or worse, going under. It’s ok to scream and worry and cry. But then you wipe your tears and somehow get yourself together.

Keep your head above water. It’s your number one priority to stay positive, determined and physically as strong as possible if you want to stay afloat and reach the shore. In the world of chronic illness, that means that self-care, looking after your body, mind and soul, should be on the top of your to-do list. Your wellbeing matters most right now.

Drop all superfluous bagage. You can get new items when you set foot on land again. In reality, that means letting go of people, obligations, habits and beliefs that weigh you down. Harsh, but necessary for survival.

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. Like this quote from Jon Kabat Zinn remarks, don’t worry about what you can’t control or change. It’s a waste of your time and energy. Focus on the things you can control instead.

Look out for buoys and hang on. Unfortunately, when you’re living with chronic illness, there’s no lifeboat and nobody can do the swimming for you. But there may be people swimming by your side, encouraging you to keep going when you feel like giving up. Don’t be the panicked swimmer that drags them down with you; use their support to lift yourself up instead. Keep an eye open for buoys to hang on to – the tiniest blessing can help you pull through.

Float on your back and stare at the sky. When the sea has calmed down, take a moment to catch your breath before you continue the course. Lie back, stay afloat effortlessly and for one minute admire the view of wherever you are. There’s beauty in the ugliest days.

Have faith. You might not end up where you wanted to go. It will probably take you much longer to reach the shore and the journey will be harder than you ever imagined. But you will make it. 

If you enjoyed reading this post, you might also like:

Related articles in Coping with Chronic Illness

How to Flip-Think Your ‘Spoonie Guilt’ with These Two Words

How to Flip-Think Your 'Spoonie Guilt' with These Two Words| The Health Sessions

Personality and Health: How to Express Yourself When You’re Limited by Illness

Personality and Health: How to Express Yourself When You're Limited by Illness | The Health Sessions

The Beginner’s Guide to Changing Your Negative Thoughts

A Beginner's Guide to Challenging Your Negative Thoughts | The Health Sessions