3 Steps to Overcoming “Why Me?”

3 Steps to Overcoming “Why Me?”

“Why me?”. These two words can accompany many difficult situations. For those with a chronic condition, they may even be something of a mantra.  A single sentence from your doctor can irrevocably change your life, and asking why you are unlucky enough to have it directed at you is an understandable response.

While it is completely normal to ask the question, it’s important to find a way to move past this mentality, as the question itself can be self-defeating. If we do not conquer these types of thoughts, they can fuel resentment, envy and self-pity. As someone with a chronic illness, your energy is definitely better focused on other things. It would be unrealistic to think that your chronic condition does not take things from you, but do not let it take your sense of purpose. It’s important to fight not to lose yourself.   So how do we go about defeating the feelings behind this question?

1. Acceptance

You might be grieving the loss of the life you thought you would have before your diagnosis. You may have to mourn that expected life as any other loss and move through the five well-known stages of grief. In the final stage–acceptance–we may find ourselves acknowledging that “Why me?”  has no answer.

Although it can be difficult to accept, sometimes in life there is no rhyme or reason why one person is sick while another is not. Even if there are triggers associated with some conditions, you cannot go back and change your past actions. Part of the process is coming to terms with your diagnosis and realizing that you cannot change what has already happened.

Something that this author certainly experienced with her diagnosis of a chronic condition is feeling a lack of control which delayed the time it took to reach acceptance.  A key step in accepting your diagnosis and moving away from asking “Why me?” is finding ways to take this control back. What IS within your power? Speak to your doctor about which treatment options are available and be part of the process in deciding which one might be best for you. If you are able, consider finding ways to support research into your condition – this can give you a feeling of being proactive rather than reactive.  If your condition has an element of inflammation, perhaps try eating an anti-inflammatory diet. Find ways that you can still be active, you might need to adjust your approach but don’t give up. This can also help greatly with channelling your negative emotions into a positive outlet. Reach out to friends and family. A chronic condition can be isolating so look for ways to maintain your relationships. Having support and seeing how others view you and your approach can go a long way to you accepting yourself and your situation.

2. Ditch Comparisons

Let go of things you feel you MUST do simply because those around you are doing them. Often, we look at those around us and are tempted to ask “Why can’t I be healthy like others I know?” Although certainly not everyone has to deal with the side effects of a chronic condition, this does not mean they aren’t facing challenges of a different kind. It can help to acknowledge that we more readily share our good fortune, keeping our misfortunes close to our chest, so it is likely that those around you have difficulties you are not aware of.

Re-frame your negative self-talk. I stay in a country with large wealth disparity. One day driving to the hospital, I was lamenting the fact that I was headed in for my thirty first surgery. We passed someone at the traffic light with a severe physical disability asking for donations. I suddenly realised that while yes this was more surgeries than most would ever go through, at least I was in a position to have it done. It had taken me seeing well over ten specialists before getting a diagnosis – well aren’t I lucky that I had support both financial and emotional, that allowed me to see that many doctors? After my diagnosis I had the ability to get the medication, physical therapy and emotional help I needed. Sure, there are still days where I find myself thinking it unfair but it helps to remember this, it provides some much-needed perspective on low days.

Part of my condition is severe low- or high-pressure headaches. A colleague I worked with and was close to, would immediately apologise if she complained of a headache. At this point, I had made my way to reaching acceptance and  something I realised is that even if (and there is no way of knowing) someone else’s physical pain is less than yours, if that is the worst pain they have experienced it has no less impact on them than yours does on you. Try to avoid comparing someone else’s difficulties to your own.

Of course, we are only human. Of course, there are moments when someone close to me complains and I think “you have no idea – try dealing with that while in pain or try dealing with that with endless fatigue” but comparisons are the thieves of joy. It would be a lie to say my condition has not robbed me of certain things, but that makes it more important not to allow it to take any more. “Why me?” paints you as a victim when, in fact, those battling chronic conditions are warriors and should see themselves as such.

3. Think Big

“Why me?” results in thinking small. If you allow it to, these thoughts will cause your world to shrink, your focus will never shift from your conditions and any limitations it may place on you. As an exercise it can be extremely insightful to ask yourself “Why NOT me?”. This can help you to get to a point where you recognize that it’s not personal. With well over 7 billion people on this planet, it’s certain that there are others experiencing pain, grief or loss. This is not an exercise to trivialize what you are going through but it can help you to feel less alone and give some greatly needed perspective.

So, think big! Look past yourself. Join a support group, not just to help yourself but perhaps by helping others in a similar boat you will see purpose to what you have been through.

Think big – look at those in a similar situation, are you judging them? Are you looking for reasons why they are going through it? I doubt the answer is yes, so be equally kind to yourself. You are not to blame; you are not being singled out and you are not alone. It is simply a case of experiencing life, both the good and the bad it has to offer. Look outside yourself. In nature, a tree might get blown over in the wind, a young gazelle might be preyed upon. Is it personal? No. In the natural world, events are not driven by that which is personal, it is simply a case of the luck of the draw. Think big – we often forget that we too are part of the natural world and the bigger picture and what we go through as individuals is not discriminatory, it simply is.

At the end of the day life doesn’t discriminate – so look at the good in your life and perhaps ask “Why me?”, look at the negatives and ask “Why not me?”. Both of these thoughts will help to see that the better question is not “Why me?” but rather “Who do I choose to be?”. What you experience as a patient with a chronic condition is by no means insignificant, it will be challenging and some days it will feel as if you are dealing with the weight of the world. Reframing how you question your condition and yourself can help put you in the best position to have a full and gratifying life despite having to roll with the punches.

Article Author
Arthritis National Research Foundation
arthritisresearch@curearthritis.org

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. Writing articles about the patients affected and the science being done to find a cure shows why we need to come together to #CureArthritis!

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