3 ways I have to adapt like a chameleon due to chronic illness
By Susan Paardekam
October 20th, 2020
When I got sick, I had to adapt like never before. While I was used to acclimating to new surroundings, I found myself constantly having to adapt to my own body.
A rude awakening
My illness developed gradually, so it took me a while to see a doctor and get a diagnosis: Graves’ Disease. At that point, my body was incredibly sick. When I was handed a list of symptoms, I was shocked at how many I recognized and how long I had been experiencing them without realizing it.
Getting a diagnosis was a wake-up call that I needed to acknowledge and monitor these symptoms, and adjust my life accordingly. It has been a wildly unpredictable ride, with periods of relative calm and long stretches of being able to do absolutely nothing.
A rollercoaster of symptoms
My illness has not been linear; I did not get sick and then slowly get better. Over the years, I have constantly had to adapt to a body that spirals out of control and then jolts to a halt.
A typical hyperthyroid day
A resting heart rate of 130bpm, heart palpitations, constant shaking, eating meals every hour, exhaustion, not being able to sleep, getting lightheaded with the slightest exertion, shedding hair like you wouldn’t believe, and having swollen feet that won’t fit into my shoes.
A typical hypothyroid day
Fatigue, being insanely cold, bloating, hair loss (again), feeling apathetic, sore muscles, difficulty concentrating, dry skin.
“Over the years, I have constantly had to adapt to a body that spirals out of control and then jolts to a halt.”
Some symptoms have come and gone because of treatment or medication. Others have been constant and have not subsided (yet) – the most debilitating of which is fatigue.
There are three main levels on which I have had to adapt to the physical effects of my illness.
1. Adapting to how my body feels in the moment
In a continuous sense, I constantly have to adapt to what my body feels like in the moment. Am I up for an activity? What does my body need?
I’m always tired. But the level of fatigue can differ and sometimes it is possible to do a bit more than other days. I have to monitor my energy levels and make sure to take breaks and stop if I get too tired.
2. Adapting to fluctuating and new symptoms
On top of that, the daily reality is that symptoms come and go, requiring my attention and adaptation. In addition, new symptoms can suddenly be sprung on me. For example, one day I woke up with tinnitus (a ringing in my ear) and it just never went away.
It can be easy to feel like a victim when another unpleasant symptom is thrown your way. To feel like it is too much – the last straw. But with a bit (okay, a lot) of mindfulness and acceptance practice I generally find that I can handle it, even when I thought I couldn’t at first.
3. Adapting my goals to my changed abilities
In a larger sense, adapting to this body means letting go of all of my ‘healthy’ aspirations, ambition, and routine. I have had to readjust my expectations to make them more suited for my current limitations. This is not easy, but has been a life-changer. I feel much less disappointment and resentment now that my goals are more in line with my abilities.
The Evolve Collection
In the Evolve Collection, every animal symbolizes a survival trait of the chronically ill. The chameleons stand for adaptation, a skill you have to learn when your body is constantly throwing new symptoms and challenges at you. Sound familiar?
It’s an ongoing process to accept my illness and adapt to the limitations it places on my body. I never know what tomorrow will bring. I hope for improvement, but never expect it to avoid disappointment.
I always try to channel my inner chameleon: ready for whatever may come, adapting to the way it is now as colorfully and authentically as I can.
About the author
Hi there! I’m Susan. I created Claymeleon to tell stories about my life with a chronic illness through handmade polymer clay earrings. What started as a hobby to pass the time on sick leave has turned into a small business that hopes to inspire vulnerability through creativity. When I’m not creating, I can generally be found resting on the sofa or doing puzzles with a bucket-sized cup of herbal tea.
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