Chronic Illness: Compare to Yourself, Not Others

Posted: January 16, 2015 in Disability
Tags: , , , ,

So I was talking about a recent doctor appointment and got to thinking about this. And since more and more one of the things I seem to write in this blog about is dealing with chronic illness, I figured I would post about this here.

So I had an appointment with a new ear, nose, and throat Doctor (otolaryngologist) regarding my meniere’s disease. My old doctor left, thus new doctor.

We started the appointment with him saying that with as frequent as my vertigo attacks are I will need surgery, and later he starts commenting on how my migraines are not being properly controlled and my treatment for that is all wrong.

This was a little bit annoying to me because he was looking solely at current frequency for both and not at all change over time.

If all you look at is how often I experience vertigo or have migraines it sounds fairly bad, the thing is it actually used to be a lot worse. My migraines are vastly improved with my current medications. They may be very frequent still and on paper if that’s all you look at it looks pretty bad. Fun fact- talking to someone about this recently who commented on how amazing her medication has been at reducing migraines, and I was struck by how her pre-medication numbers were lower than mine on medications. Prior to taking the preventatives I do now, I had migraines more often than not. I have very frequent migraines. Which means even a significant decrease can mean my migraines are still frequent.

Which is why it’s necessary to look at my current migraines and compare to myself, not other people. Compare me on medication to that woman off medications and it would appear my medications are completely useless and not helping at all. Which is not true. Compare me before taking these meds to me now and you would see that they have actually resulted in a significant decrease in the frequency of my migraines and an even more significant decrease in the severity of my migraines. Frequency is important, but I’ll take 13 or more migraines a month that can be controlled with abortive medications over 5 migraines a month that no medication makes any impact on, personally.

Chronic Illness Cat: “Only Barely Limping Today. Gets Excited.” Limping at all would not be a good day for me, but I think this is a great example of how we need to compare against ourselves, not compare to others! If barely limping is a good day for you, celebrate only barely limping!

It reminds me of something a read awhile back talking about pain charts and whether or not they should be used as a more universal measure of pain- such that if people estimated their pain accurately a 5 on the pain scale would be the same amount of pain for all people, or a subjective measure- where it is based on one’s personal experiences with pain. It talked about using the scale for people who suffer chronic pain and basically suggesting that if you have chronic pain your bottom- the lowest pain for you- is higher than someone who doesn’t where the bottom is really no pain, and that it should be used in that context solely for comparing a person’s changes over time. So it isn’t so much relevant whether their pain is a 3, 5, or a 7, but whether it is increasing or decreasing from some other point in time.

I think that use would make sense if used that way, though in my experience hospitals and doctors in reality use it in the first sense. And I could easily go on for awhile about all the problems I have with those pain scales, but that’s not my point here.

But instead, it really is often important with chronic illnesses that we compare against ourselves and not other people, especially other people who are generally healthy. Comparing that way leads to nothing but frustration, anger, and depression IMO.

And it is hard to avoid sometimes. I constantly have times when I’m reminded of how different certain things are for me compared to people without chronic illnesses. And I get frustrated at the limitations it causes for me that they don’t have to deal with.

But at the end of the day I can’t control those things. If I compare my best days to what they could be without chronic illness it would just feel depressing and defeating. But if I use myself as the sole comparison, then me on my best days is still a win for me, and the more I can do to feel better as compared to myself, the better off I am.

And I think this is a problem that holds a lot of people back. We think “if X is never going to be possible for me, what’s the point at all?” Certainly I think this happens a lot with fitness goals. There may be certain aspects that a chronic illness or disability puts out of reach, and it’s easy to think “why bother at all?” rather than focusing on what one can do. One way that has happened for me, that I have talked a lot about, is on the consistency front. If I’m always going to get thrown off my plans and goals by illness over and over again, why bother? Well, obviously there are a lot of reasons to! And it helps a lot to focus on my own progress, measured against myself over time, rather than comparing me to someone else and their progress over time.

  1. lozette says:

    I’m writing a similar post at the moment, about my experience of lifting with endometriosis. This was a good read for me, you’re so right about comparing yourself to others!

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