With Chronic Illness, We Can’t Let Fear Take Us Down a Rabbit Hole

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by Charlton Harris |

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Going down the rabbit hole is a real thing.

I’ve often heard that phrase when it seemed I was going to let something consume all of my time and attention, to my detriment. As I like to say, “Don’t take yourself out of the game.”

The phrase originated with Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” In the story, Alice literally falls down a rabbit hole, which transports her to the alternate universe of Wonderland. I still view “going down the rabbit hole” as a process that can have negative or disastrous outcomes.

I believe that going down a rabbit hole goes hand in hand with fear.

I often think back to my hospitalizations. My longest stay was two months, thanks to two spontaneous pneumothoraces, and my shortest stay was overnight, a result of diverticulitis. To be crystal clear, diverticulitis is very painful, especially if you’re a man thinking you can hold off and let it pass. (I lost.)

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A Hospitalization Reminded Me There Are Good Lessons in the Toughest Challenges

Over the years, I’ve learned that I can’t let certain pains pass. I’m not 19 anymore. My concern is, what if I had let fear take over my thoughts? What if I had allowed my thoughts about rehabilitation and healing to become fears? In some instances, I had let my fear with chronic illness dictate my behavior and thinking.

The biggest secret I discovered is that developing a chronic health condition results in a new relationship. My relationship with my illness is no different from my other relationships. My spouse and I developed a relationship that allows us to coexist without choking each other. When my children came into my life, I had to develop relationships with them — though half the time, I feel like a visitor in my home with no veto power!

When it comes to chronic health conditions, we have to treat them like a new relationship and make them work for us if we can. My relationship with pulmonary sarcoidosis makes me fearful at times. Nearly three years ago, both of my lungs collapsed, so now I must ensure my breathing is never compromised.

I can tell you from firsthand experience that it’s critical to never underestimate the importance of oxygen or your body’s response to lack of it. Therefore, I’ve made my breathing a deliberate action. I no longer simply breathe; I now breathe with purpose. My purpose is to stay vertical, as I serve no purpose if I’m horizontal.

That level of anxiety has made me more fearful to go out, enjoy life, and live to the best of my ability. Big, open spaces cause me the most anxiety. I always feel trapped, thinking that if something were to happen, I wouldn’t have help.

It’s hard to pull myself away from the comfort of my house, television, and things that make me feel safe. I’m happy sitting on my couch with a cocktail, watching cooking shows that I saw while hospitalized, and not engaging in the daily fight of living and providing.

I took an assessment of everything I’ve allowed to slip by me. I’m not proud, but this is the effect of going down the rabbit hole of fear and anxiety.

I recently ran into a former work colleague from before I became partially disabled. (I say “partially” because I can’t physically move like I used to, but my mind hasn’t missed a beat and is sharp as ever.) I learned that he has faced some health challenges as well, but is starting a new job near my house. We’re planning to meet for lunch in a few weeks so I can show him some nice restaurants and we can catch up on our respective health issues.

I wish him well on his new adventure, and am grateful to him for being a guardian of the rabbit hole.


Note: Sarcoidosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sarcoidosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sarcoidosis.


Janet avatar


Thank you for sharing , it helps to know I am not alone with my struggles in this disease . I am approaching 80 and have been very fortunate to have been in remission for 15 years but things are starting to get complicated . My GP is inexperience with treatment but is referring me to a pulmonary specialist .
Take care


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