Skip to content

Feeling ill and thinking well

I’ve mentioned giving myself a severe talking to recently, and I wanted to write a bit more about that. Last week I had a few days when I was feeling ill and sorry for myself. In fact, it was the worst I had felt since just before the chemotherapy started in January. I had stopped thinking rationally about my situation and was just feeling bad without analysing it, which was not at all helpful. To be fair, when I add up all the symptoms and list them it’s not surprising that I wasn’t feeling too good: I was queasy; my back was really quite painful; I wasn’t sleeping properly; my energy levels were low; I was bored because I was in pain and had no energy. These were all background feelings that made my trip into hospital when my temperature spiked feel all the worse. The blood tests that they did then, and the following Wednesday confirmed that I was anaemic, which was probably contributing to my lack of energy. They also suspected that I had a viral infection, further complicating my situation.

Those physical symptoms had been accompanied by some unpleasant thoughts. For example, “if it’s going to be like this, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to cope…” went through my head. I was definitely depressed about my situation, and not thinking straight at all.

After nearly a week of feeling sorry for myself, I decided on Wednesday that I wasn’t going to let that happen any longer. I have written — and I still strongly believe — that I can choose to be positive about my situation, no matter how bad it appears to be. That had been relatively easy while things were going well; now I had a challenge to face. Looking at my situation squarely I realized that a root cause of my problems was the pain in my back, which was preventing me from sleeping during the night, contributing to my lack of energy. During the day the pain was another drain on my energy. If I could do something about the pain then a lot of the other stuff would also improve.

The “problem” was that the pain killer I would use was morphine, off which I was very proud to have weaned myself. Moreover, morphine tends to make me constipated, which then makes me feel nauseous, another reason for avoiding it. Never mind, I have drugs to counter the constipation, so I should start taking the morphine and get rid of the pain in my back.

That night I slept properly for the first time in over a week, and woke on Thursday feeling much better. As the days wore on, and I was in less pain, my mood improved, and the nausea and queasiness went away too. I think now that I had managed to fight off the infection, which seems likely to have caused the queasiness, and it was just a coincidence that that happened at the same time as I changed my attitude, but the coincidence was a powerful reinforcement, encouraging me in my new attitude. I’m glad it happened when it did.

Looking back I can see that a collection of physical circumstances had combined to make me tired and depressed, and I had stopped thinking rationally about my situation. My only thoughts seemed to be automatically triggered by what was happening to me, and my rational mind wasn’t involved in that process at all. One of the poor decisions I made was a reluctance to take pain killers, which only made my situation worse. As soon as I thought rationally, rather than simply emoting about how I felt, I was able to do something about the pain, which made many of the other problems start to disappear, and rapidly improved my mood. Granted, the end of the infection may also have made me feel better too, but I choose to ascribe most of the improvement to taking an active part in managing my pain and attitude. The feeling that I could control my symptoms is a powerful one and I ought not to have forgotten it.

This episode was a powerful lesson for me. I hope I remember it in the future when another collection of bad symptoms combines to attack me. I’m sure I will, with this example behind me.

{ 6 } Comments

  1. Miranda | 15 April 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I am glad to hear that your physical symptoms have improved, and that your mood have turned around, too. This is such good news and you make lots of sense with your recovery.
    In my previous entry I just wanted to say that the mood can not be good ALL THE TIME in spite of such severe physical illness, as you just wrote herehappened to you, fluctuation is just the norm, it can not be otherwise….The chemestry of pain, the toxicity of chemotherapy, the biological toxicity of the bugs from the infection, the lack of sleep it all goes against health which naturally supports a healthy state of consciousness….It is all organicly connected, and your general state of conciousness arises from that…The logic and the concious mind are just but a little percentage of our human consciousness and it certainly is a part of the whole….
    I however believe that cronic negativity is also impossible in spite of terminal illness, after all we are programmed to strive for survival, we will always see improvement in little things and will strive for the possibility of survival on the face of the worst…Consciousness is a very complex phenomena

  2. icyjumbo | 15 April 2010 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    Miranda, I wasn’t trying to disagree with you. Let me note that if you are right, and no-one can feel positive all the time, then the talking to that I gave myself wouldn’t have worked. I think the fact that it did work tells me that I was giving in too easily to those negative feelings. Giving myself a “talking to” is my way of challenging those automatic thoughts and returning, if possible, to a happier state which I much prefer to be in. If I can talk myself out of negative feelings, then I owe it to myself, and those around me, to try to do so. If I succeed, then we all benefit. The fact that I sometimes — frequently, in fact — succeed tells me that I should continue to make the effort.

    If the effort fails, well then I know that I’m in an unliftable-for-the-present negative state. I’ll try again later, as I don’t like being in that state, and I don’t want to inflict in on Gillian, or others who love me, longer than I have to.

  3. Miranda | 16 April 2010 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    I am truly sorry if I challenged you in anyway, that was not my intention what-so-ever. I further apologise for any discomfort I have created. After all you are undergoing a very difficult time and this is your blog. I will not touch the subject ever again which is very controversial indeed. This is not the place to do that.

  4. icyjumbo | 16 April 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Miranda, you didn’t challenge me, I challenged myself not to give in to negative thinking and feelings when I didn’t have to. Please do continue to challenge me all you like. After all, a good intellectual challenge is as good a way as any of keeping my mind of the present difficulties.

  5. Miranda | 17 April 2010 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Chris. I totally enjoy mind excercises so I can’t hardly stop myself from writing this last thing….
    It is the relativity of this “mind” dimension which is so fascinating ….Let’s say that everything can be argued both ways… …..for instance…..Fighting “negative” thoughts -which in your line of thinking is to be considered so positive- could be (and in fact is) understood as being “negative thinking” by the opposite line of thoughts, it all depends on the perspective one takes…Everything can be argued both ways..absolutely everything…
    But I will not hold this argument now as much as it fascinates me because it is definitely not fair. Not fair to you and not fair to me…After all you do have a dog in this fight and I don’t.
    I am here to see your spirit and your individuality rising in difficult times…I would love to find the way to support that, this is where I want to “meet” you…So far I have so obviously failed…

  6. icyjumbo | 17 April 2010 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t say that you have failed in your aim, necessarily. Remember that, as a scientist, it is hard for me to accept what sound like arguments from a mystical viewpoint. I find them too insubstantial to grapple with, and so to me they make no sense. If they mean something to you, and you get something useful from them, I’m not going to argue with that. It’s just that they do nothing for me.

    Scientists tend to take a reductionist view of the world. One example of that might be for me to look at your statement “Everything can be argued both ways..absolutely everything” If this is true, then even that statement can be argued both ways. That is, by its hypothesis there is something that cannot be argued both ways, so it must be arguable in only one way. But that contradicts the original statement, proving that the original statement must be false. Therefore I can’t accept it at face value. (How’s that for a mind exercise? :))