Managing Anxiety With Chronic Illness

Written by Brittany Foster, Blogger & Advocate

Living with multiple chronic conditions is a daily struggle, to say the least. Living with potentially life-threatening conditions makes it even more of a struggle. The hardest part about managing multiple conditions, in my opinion, is the mental struggles that go along with it. The most complicated part of my anxiety, depression, and PTSD after having serious health conditions throughout my 25 years of life is facing daily fears and recognizing these fears. Anxiety and PTSD make it especially difficult for me to differentiate between rational and irrational fears. Sometimes I think I am being too hard on myself. I get discouraged when my fear takes over. I feel defeated when it keeps me from doing something, or when it makes me obsess over what can go wrong. Fear isn’t easy to manage. People with chronic health conditions are no stranger to this. Truthfully, it took me 20 years to be able to even express and acknowledge what it was I was so afraid of.

PTSD further complicated my fears. I find myself having to stop and question myself when I get consumed by my own thoughts. Is this an old fear or a new fear? Am I just thinking this way because of what happened when I was younger, or is this actually something that could potentially be going on? Am I associating what is going on now with past feelings and physical sensations? Is this fear logical in this moment, or is it worse because of a past incident? When I am experiencing a health emergency, it is extremely difficult for me to find answers and come up with logical explanations. Many times, I have to assess situations when I am in a physically and mentally calmer state of mind and body. I have help processing my fears in talk therapy and journaling also helps me to process what I am feeling (or felt) during a particular situation.

It is hard to explain the fear related to health conditions to those who may not understand the impact it could have on someone. I recently wrote a poem about just a few of the fears I face, to help illustrate my anxiety.

It leaves me feeling paralyzed
Questioning my decisions, actions, and my own body
Fear can strike at any moment
From a simple trigger or an uneasy feeling
I can easily be controlled by it when it takes over
To the point where I’m not thinking rationally
Don’t feel like I am in my own body at times
Where I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel
It’s all black. It’s all consuming. It’s fear
What are my fears as someone who is chronically ill?
What should I fear, since I’ve already made it through my worst?
Why fear what is in the past?
It is my experiences and medical traumas that leave me with fear
It’s the surgeries that are yet to come that leave me with fear
Chronic illness and CHD isn’t something I can get used to
My body stings with fear with every blood draw,
every MRI, CT scan, procedure, surgery, test
Every result that is read to me
Every time I’ve heard “There isn’t much more we can do”
“This is just how you are”
That’s what I’m afraid of. Of this being how I am.
Fears of it getting worse,
fears of being a burden to my family and friends and the love of my life,
fear of loss, fear of not being better,
fear of my own anxiety and fear of depression
There is so much fear in those words: “This is how I am”
I fear for my body when I get extreme dizziness and blackout
I fear for my lungs when oxygen levels read 81% sitting down
I fear for my blood flow when I can feel the neck pain
and head pain that comes with subclavian steal syndrome
I fear for my heart as it races and skips beats.
I fear when my legs feel weak and I feel like falling
I fear in the moments when I think “How can I do this anymore?”
I fear what life will look like 10 years from now
I fear for all the children born with CHD
I fear the things that have happened,
things that may or may not happen, and I fear the present
I fear the medications that are being pumped into my body on bad pain level days
Fear of dependence, fear of addiction,
fear of relying on medication to get me through a day
How do I keep pushing through
when there are days when I am suffocating from this?
The only thing that keeps me pushing through the fear is hope.
Hope that there WILL be a cure
Hope that this isn’t all there is
Hope that medical advances will help younger children thrive
I find hope in knowing that my bad days will pass,
and that my oxygen and medication WILL help me through my hardest days
I have this hope because of the people who I choose to surround myself with
They are the ones who give me the strength to hold onto that
When I think ‘How can I possibly keep doing this?’ they are my reasons
They are the ones who remind me of my strength every single day
Hang onto hope, even if you’re afraid
Hope is the ONLY thing stronger than fear

My name is Brittany and this is Where I Stand.