This week I continue the theme of recovery in the context of illness. Last week’s blog post focused on the assumptions which lace the recovery process due to society’s interpretation of recovery:
a) To have (the use, possession, or control of something) restored
b) To regain the use of (a faculty) or be restored to (a normal or usual condition)
c) To regain one’s health, strength, composure, balance, etc., after illness, trouble, disturbance, or the like
d) If you recover, you become well again after an illness or injury.
Maybe you got seriously ill a few months, a year, or sometime ago. You don’t always feel great, sometimes downright poorly. You are following the doctor’s advice yet you don’t feel like you are getting anywhere. You are asking yourself, ‘Is this all the recovery I’m gonna get?’
This is tough. Especially when you know you are doing all that you can be doing for yourself. Making it harder can be those times when you catch family and friends looking at you and you worry they are thinking you are faking it. And the days when you are just bloody sick of the routine of being sick.
Although I can’t directly change the path of your recovery, I can show how varied the recovery process can be for people depending on the illness they have. You can use this to share with family, friends and colleagues. By doing that, it starts to dismantle the assumptions and stigmas surrounding recovery. Thereby hopefully bring more understanding and support in our society to people like you, whose recovery may be ongoing. I also offer ideas on redefining ‘recovery’, which can offer you additional options for your own recovery and maybe even make it a more manageable process.
The types of recovery are as varied as the many kinds of illnesses that exist
As mentioned last week, recovery from a broken bone, a cold, the flu or an infection means (in most cases) that you go back to the way you were before the injury or illness’s onset. This is the most popular notion of recovery in our society, which is applied to many different types of illnesses even the ones that aren’t temporary in nature.
But some illnesses, once they start, don’t end. They go on and on and on. They are chronic. Like Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
Other illnesses can be very serious in the acute phase. Some you are unlikely to die from, like Transverse Myelitis (but of course you don’t know that when the illness strikes and you may think you are dying). Others you can die from if you are not treated in time, like meningitis, heart attack, traumatic or acquired brain injury (stroke or brain hemorrhage).
The duration of the recovery process from these illnesses can be uncertain. In the early phase or even during the initial few years of living with the impact, you may not know how much functionality you will regain. The recovery process can be long. Also, some of these illnesses can have a long-lasting impact on your body which can be invisible or visible, life-changing or not. At onset though it is not always possible to say what the recovery and prognosis will be like.
For example, with TM you can acquire a life-long disability overnight, which might be invisible (continence issues, fatigue and/or chronic pain) and/or visible (mobility issues, paralysis and/or spasms). Others will make a good recovery – their bodies may be permanently changed in some way or not, and they may be able to live their life as before the illness’s onset.
Then you have illnesses which are relapsing, which means that they are always there in the background and at times are active, then can go quiet again. For example, relapsing remitting Multiple Sclerosis or Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO). For each relapse, there is a recovery process, which can be uncertain regarding duration and how much functionality is regained. The relapses can lead to additional permanent changes in the person’s body and possibly further disability.
You also have illnesses like cancers, some which, with appropriate treatment, can be cleared from the body. Then there is the recovery process from treatment, dealing with fatigue, brain fog, developing one’s strength, etc. There will be regular follow-up tests to find out if the person’s body has remained free of the cancer or if it has returned. Some people will refer to no longer having cancer as being cured, some as being in remission, and others as being cancer free. You can see that the notions of recovery can be different depending on the person.
Some illnesses are progressive and can end in death like some cancers, primary progressive MS, or Motor Neuron Disease. There may be physical ups and downs in living with the condition: some good days, some bad days, some so-so. The body is changing on an ongoing basis. And so you wonder what can be ‘recovered’ in this scenario.
So what are we learning from these scenarios?
Many times recovery is different from the notion of ‘getting better’ or ‘going back to the way you were’. As demonstrated above, that kind of recovery isn’t possible because the illness permanently changes the body. Society’s go-to definition of recovery is not inclusive for all the different types of recovery there can be.
Uncertainty is often a constant bedfellow of the recovery process. This can come as a surprise to people particularly if their definition of recovery was that they would go back to how they were prior to the illnessâ€™s onset. But it becomes important to learn how to live with this uncertainty because if one doesn’t, it can negatively impact the recovery/rehabilitation process (Babcock, 2013; Checton et al, 2012; Holm et al, 2008).
Recovery is a subjective experience of the person who experiences the illness. One person might have deemed themselves to have experienced a good recovery, another not and could have been similarly affected by the same illness. Another may not make a good recovery according to medical measures, and feel really good in themselves.
Recovery becomes an ongoing process, one that doesn’t end. For now I refer to this as ‘ongoing rehabilitation’. There is a need to look after yourself differently than before the illness/injury and this may require medication, exercise, change in diet and more on an ongoing basis. (This is where getting sick of the routine of being ‘sick’ can happen and that is a blog post for another day.)
Redefining what we mean by being ‘well’
Looking again at the definition of recovery, particularly point d) ‘If you recover, you become well again after an illness or injury’, I find myself curious by the word ‘well’ and how we define it. After the onset of a condition, illness or injury which changes the body forever, we need to redefine what we mean as ‘well’.
‘Being well’ can have many different meanings. There can be physical wellness, psychological/emotional wellness, social wellness, spiritual wellness, financial wellness, etc, etc. The definition of ‘well’ will also differ from person to person because we all have our own experience of being well or not.
From a physical perspective, our bodies have permanently changed so our previous thresholds for being physically well or not have changed. But we may not yet know what the new thresholds are. We must learn that as we learn to live in our changed bodies.
We are also learning to live with all the other changes the illness brought into our lives. As the changes are often unwelcome, there is the process of coming to terms with that too. Mixed in with this is the hope and desire to feel well within ourselves again, to experience quality of life whilst living with illness. This is where the other forms of wellness come into play, the psychological/emotional, spiritual, social, financial, etc. These too may need to be redefined in the context of our current situation.
By redefining what we mean as ‘being well’ in the various facets of our lives, and working towards those new definitions, we enable a new kind of recovery for ourselves: a recovery of wellness within illness/injury. (Even for life limiting illnesses.) This strikes me as a more broad and inclusive definition of recovery which can be tailored to the needs of individuals.
What’s it like for you?
In relation to your own or a loved one’s experience with illness, how have you or they defined recovery? What do you think of the notion of recovering wellness within illness? I’d love to hear your thoughts so share below by leaving a comment.
If this blog has sparked something inside you and you would like to explore how you can make changes to your recovery process, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.
Pass it forward
Although these blogs are written in the context of living with serious illness/injury or a chronic condition, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. So if you think a friend or family member would benefit from reading it, or you just want to share it with the world, share this post using the icons below.
I have started to research the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of long-term conditions and serious illness/injury. If you or a loved one experienced the onset of a long-term condition or serious illness/injury in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering with what acceptance means for you, I would love to speak with you. Click here to find out more.
© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2016
Babcock, B. What impact does a systemic approach to coaching have on the wellness and wellbeing of people with chronic medical conditions and their primary caregivers? Poster session presented at: British Psychological Society’s Special Group in Coaching Psychology 4th European Coaching Psychology Conference; 2013 December 12-13; Edinburgh, UK.
Checton, M.G. PhD, Greene, K. PhD, Magsamen-Conrad, K. PhD, Venetis, M.K. PhD (2012) Patients’ and Partners’ Perspectives of Chronic Illness and Its Management, Families, Systems, & Health, Vol. 30, No. 2, 114-129.
Holm, K.E. PhD, Patterson, J.M. PhD, Rueter, M.A. PhD, Wamboldt, F. MD (2008) Impact of Uncertainty Associated With a Child’s Chronic Health Condition on Parents’ Health, Families, Systems, & Health, Vol. 26, No. 3, 282-295.
a) and b) recover. (n.d.)American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (2011). Retrieved 14 June 2016 fromÂ https://www.thefreedictionary.com/recover
c) (n.d.)Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary. (2010). Retrieved 14 June 2016 fromÂ https://www.thefreedictionary.com/recover
d) (n.d.)Collins COBUILD English Usage. (1992, 2004, 2011, 2012). Retrieved 14 June 2016 fromÂ https://www.thefreedictionary.com/recover