Resenting Illness, Striving toward Wellness

In some recent conversations with healers and healthcare providers, I had a thought about some struggles we have with connecting to some of the people who come to us wanting to be healed. For the purpose of this post, I define “illness” as a state of dis-ease, discomfort, and distress and “wellness” as a state of ease, acceptance, and freedom. They are, of course, opposites of a kind that end up defining and intertwining with each other, and an illness can come from biological, environmental, psychological, or other factors.

The conversations have been that some healthcare providers struggle with a certain portion of their clients who want wellness. This client or patient is understandably suffering, perhaps impatient, and really desires to be healed. The provider does what they do and makes recommendations for the person to follow. The person does not follow them and complains that they are not getting benefit. The person may not follow recommendations for a number of reasons, not all of which are within their control. The person may not trust their provider, or their provider’s recommendations may be inappropriate, unaffordable, or otherwise inaccessible for the person due to limits on their resources or demands of their lives. Perhaps the provider and client are not treating the right condition with the right modality.

One piece that occurred to me recently is that one barrier to effective treatment is the person’s relationship with their illness. Most of us do not like being sick, did not choose to be sick, and resent the ways our illnesses limit our lives. When a person harboring that much resentment toward their illness meets with a provider, the dearest hope is that there will be some simple fix or pill that will make it all better. When they’re told instead that they have to make more sacrifices–spend money for treatment, take time for therapy, change their lifestyles of diet and exercise–this only deepens the resentment. “I didn’t want this, I hate what it’s taken from me, why does it have to take more?”

Caduceus, by Luis Garcia

We might look at this resentment of illness and see how it interferes with one’s ability to engage with treatment. I don’t think this is unusual or a sign of poor character. Illness is inconveniencing at best and debilitating at worst, it’s no surprise that one may resent it. When an illness comes about on by someone else’s behavior–such as posttraumatic stress disorder arising from violence committed against the person–then anger and resentment toward the one who caused it mixes and mingles with this other anger.

What might be on the other side of a polarity from resentment of illness? The thought I had was “striving toward wellness.” A person who strives toward wellness, in my experience, takes responsibility for their illness and their treatment. They accept that the illness isn’t their fault but know that ultimately doesn’t change what needs to happen to become more well. They are open to suggestions, try things out, and communicate honestly with their providers about what helps and what hinders wellness. They assume stewardship over illness and wellness, knowing what kind of life they want to move toward and investigating the options that will help them get there.

Teasing these two apart suggests a “purity” that most of us will not experience. Resentment of illness and striving for wellness may cohabitate in our lives, waxing and waning according to circumstance. Some days I might feel fairly accepting of a chronic condition and do the things I need to do to keep myself well, but other days I might cry, feel all the resentment that my illness forces me to deal with these issues, and skip the self-care steps I know I need to take. What is most important, I think, is to learn to recognize these modes for what they are, give ourselves some compassion for when we struggle, and choose what steps will move us in the desired direction.