Choosing Forgiveness — the Eighth Emotional Stage

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last updated: May 2020

I’m often asked how I keep a positive attitude when my health is such a train wreck. I tell those who ask that it’s all about choices.

I think that there are stages to our lives and our life experiences. You know, like the stages we roll our eyes at when our kids are screaming 2 yr olds, or rebellious 17 yr olds. We say “It’s a stage. They’ll get over it.” Then we pray that they actually do.

I have found that there are emotional stages to chronic illness that very much mimic the stages of grief. The 7 stages of grief are

  • Shock, denial and isolation
  • Pain and Guilt
  • Anger and Bargaining
  • Reflection, Depression, Loneliness
  • Upward turn
  • Reconstruction and working through
  • Acceptance and Hope

Although the emotional stages of chronic illness I have experienced are the same, there are some distinct differences. For example, grief over the death of a loved one is final. Grief over the experience of a chronic illness is ongoing. For me, I seem to have progressed through most of the stages, but every once in a while, something will happen and I find the need to somehow revisit them again.

One of the things that can turn me on my heels and have me starting the process all over again, is being confronted by someone who doesn’t understand what I’m going through. Maybe they don’t understand my illnesses, or maybe they just don’t understand why I don’t just take a pill and *get over* them. Sometimes they confront me telling me I should be thankful that I am not dying, or tear me apart because I’m unable to do something they think I should be able to do.

I always start my chronic illness emotional stages with shock. For some reason I can’t get it through my head that they don’t understand what is happening to my body, or why they don’t just ask. Then I hit the isolation part. I feel very alone — as if I am the only person on the planet going through these struggles. (It doesn’t help that I am one of the only ones with this particular conundrum of issues) I am alone in my pain — both physical and emotional - and can’t share it with anyone. They can’t feel what I feel, and that makes me alone.

The pain and guilt is terrible. Other chronic moms will know what I’m talking about. For most of us, you could tear us into little pieces, and we would let it happen to protect our children. We can’t protect them from chronic illness and the ravages to their lives and the life of a family though. No matter how hard we try to make it *not true* we can’t give them back happy birthdays or a mom that can do normal things.

I rarely bargain. I do get angry though. Thankfully, I’ve been angry enough that I’ve worked through this part pretty well. A long time ago I realized that being angry is part of being human. The trick isn’t NOT being angry, it’s learning how to do it right. For me, this means I have to let myself be angry… For a while. I give myself a time limit, then stick to it. Go ahead seethe, be ticked off and sullen. Watch some sad movies and listen to heavy metal music. Sulk for a while and think about why I’m mad. Let it wash over me like warm melted chocolate. Maybe even cry. When my time limit is over, I have to get over it. I’ve indulged myself and it’s time to be a grown up. It’s time to deal with life as it is. Being angry serves no purpose, so I try hard to get it over with so I can throw it out of my life.

Reflection, depression and loneliness

These are hard ones for me. I’m home working, so I don’t have the distractions most people have associated with their employment. My kids have recently moved away, so I can’t keep myself busy with them. I try hard not to reflect on what could be, because it can’t be. That’s a useless part for me. I sometimes do get depressed when I’m confronted by someone as well as those that just turn and walk away because it’s easier. And the loneliness is sometimes hard to beat back. There is no one else out there just like me. So I became an educator and advocate to try to fight these parts of chronic illness. Not just for those I help (although they are the driving force behind me) but for myself as well. It’s how I survive.

I do love a good upward turn :) I feel it when it hits me and I revel in it. I know the negative stuff is behind me and I can concentrate on what’s really important — the positive parts of life that make all of the struggle worthwhile. Every once in a while somebody tries to bring me back down, but when I’m in this stage, that’s tough to do because I choose NOT TO LET THEM.

Reconstruction and working through chronic illness is an ongoing project. Each day I wake up different than the day before. This necessitates making adjustments in how I work through the issues at hand. I used to think of my life as constantly being reconstructed, but I realized that it’s not so much reconstruction as construction. Reconstruction to me means putting it back the way it was, but I’m not satisfied with that. I’m too determined to be better than I was, so really it’s more like starting all over again with a blank slate. I can be whoever I want to be, now I just need to get to the business of doing it.

That brings me to one part of grief they don’t talk about…The most important part for me: Forgiveness.

I used to try very hard to “work through” my issues. They never seemed to go away, just change into something else that needed to be worked on. That was back in the day when I thought forgiveness was for the person you are forgiving. Now I believe it is really as much for the person doing the forgiving. When someone drives me to have to revisit all these phases again, it’s their doing. But it is MY CHOICE what I do with that. And I choose to let it go. I refuse to let someone else hold that power over me. (Maybe I’m a bit of a control freak?) Forgiveness is a gift of freedom that I choose to give myself.

Sometimes forgiveness needs to be done repeatedly…. Even every day. My life has been dramatic and there are a few people that have been in it and caused terrible destruction. I am reminded of this every day. Each time I’m reminded of it, I have to break myself free of the bonds I imagine they try to hold me with.

Our lives are altered by the people we encounter in them, but it is always our choice what to do with our lives when that happens.

We all know these 2 rules to life:

  • Those we love the most are the ones who can hurt us the worst.
  • Those who we love the most will hurt us.

How do you deal with people who don’t understand your Migraine Disease? What choices do you make when confronted with the 7 stages of emotionally dealing with chronic illness?

The last stage for me is hope. Hope is the light at the end of the deep dark tunnel that shows us there is more to the story. Like others with chronic illness I cling to Hope as if it were a living thing. So long as there is hope, there is more to my story and the story of so many others like me. With hope I can be more. In the end I know I can survive anything, so long as there is hope…

Emily Dickinson wrote:

Hope is the thing with feathers,

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune - - without the words,

And never stops at all,


And sweetest in the gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.


I’ve heard it in the chillest land,

And on the strangest sea;

Yet, never in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

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