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5July 12, 2010Chronic Illness Brings With It Fears

Posted Jul 12 2010 12:00am

I have a fear of elevators and other tight spaces, because I am Claustrophobic. I also have a fear of failure, called Atychiphobia. I am also afraid of heights (Acrophobia) so I stay away from the windows of high buildings. In Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, he said that the “only thing to fear is fear itself.” FDR said this at the worst point of the Great Depression.

Fear is a part of being human but having fears does not mean we should hide in our homes. I take the elevator every morning to my office and I focus so much more on success because I am afraid to fail. Everyone is afraid of something and everyone gets scared sometimes. Some people are paralyzed by thunder and lighting. Others suffer from test anxiety or from public speaking.

I had to explain fears to my son over the weekend and told him that we all have fears from time to time. It does not matter how old we are or how brave we are. Sometimes fear is a good thing. Fear of fire, for example, can keep you from getting burned or fear of failing a test can force you to study harder. Often times, fears sharpen our awareness and help us to perform better. There are, of course, people who live on fear. They are the ones who watch all the scary movies and visit the scariest roller coasters.

Our bodies, in response to fear, will sweat and breathe quicker (as a result of a racing heartbeat). This is called the body’s “fight or flight” response. It is part of being human and it is has been a part humanity since the beginning of time. This fight or flight response usually validates fear and often, it appears in the form of anxiety. Anxiety brings with it other feelings including a tightness in the chest, stomachaches, dizziness and the feeling that something is about to go wrong. These feelings can be quite frightening and anxiety can affect other aspects of our lives including sleeping and concentrating.

Anxiety keeps us from getting the things that we want. Sometimes fear can lead to phobias like my really annoying ones. Getting in the elevator for me forces me to hold my breath in order to keep my composure in tact until I make it to the seventh floor every morning. I stay away of windows in buildings that are higher than two floors and I prefer to live on the first floor a building. I also hate failure so I focus on my strengths instead of my weaknesses.

Often times, I think about how weak rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia have made me and I also look at how strong they have made me. I have always been a confident person but I have had moments of weakness. I am the type of person that rolls with the punches while holding the hurt inside. The problem with holding things in is that they eventually come out. The one thing I fear more than anything in the world is disability. I cannot imagine losing my independence considering I am as independent as come. It is something that eats and nags at my conscience and even leads to nightmares. Aside from plowing ahead despite RA and FMS, flares are a reminder of this fear.

There are eight fears of chronic illness that, for many, are a struggle.
1. Fear of a loss of control.
2. Fear of changes self image.
3. Fear of dependency.
4. Fear of stigma.
5. Fear of abandonment.
6. Fear of expressing anger.
7. Fear of isolation.
8. Fear of death.

These are parts of living with chronic illness. They consume us and they often keep us from enjoying life. At the same token, we have a choice. I believe that it is okay to have pity parties so much that they do not consume you. We get to be scared because our conditions are scary, but we do not get to hide. We still have to be members of society regardless of and despite chronic illness.

Even though symptoms of chronic illnesses differ, sufferers all share denial, anger, fear, hope and acceptance – the five stages of grief. I have gone through all of these emotions and sometimes, I have to go back and relive them. I have finally only in recent weeks stopped crying during flares because of a fear of disability. I am not saying that I do not go through some really emotional periods during flares, but the emotional response isn’t as strong as it used to be and that has got to be a good thing.

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