The psychology of illness

Since before my counseling internship at a hospital back in the early 1990s, I have been fascinated with how we feel about ourselves when we become very ill. How do we explain illness to ourselves?

The traditional American view was everywhere when I sat with patients back then. Elderly patients always said something like, “What did I do to deserve this?” Christian guilt and shame runs rampant in environments like these:

“I must have done something wrong or I wouldn’t feel so bad.”

c. difficile bacteriaIt seems we always search for some plausible explanation even though we know we all have to die of something, sometime. I have had a number of health challenges in the past year, many more than my previous 60+ years on this planet, and they are all permanent disabilities, not temporary setbacks. Lately I have acquired a serious bacterial infection that does not normally occur in healthy adults, so of course my mind turns to the “why” questions again.

How did I get this? Why now?

I suppose we think this way because we feel certain that there must be some justice in all of this. That is our problem, trying to find meaning in a world that is certain to kill all of us eventually is an absurdity. If that bacteria doesn’t get you, something else will. But it seems so human to rage against this mentality.

This is what interests me about illness and the ways we humans think about it.