Living vs Surviving 

You know the question….. We’ve all asked it, and all thought carefully about how to answer. The question is nothing life altering to most and seems simple enough. But to many the answer is FAR from simple. Now you are probably wondering what question I might be speaking of. Well….. the common probably the most common and generic question asked, “How are you?”     To most that’s not a big question and gets a simple answer of “Okay,” or “Fine.” But how many of us with a chronic illness ever answer this truthfully? When was the last time you answered and said “I had a really horrible night l, my pain is at a 9, my head is pounding and I think I’m going to lose my breakfast and I’m barely surviving?”  Probably never! No one is ever that truthful and no one ever expects that kind of answer. What would you honestly do if someone you hardly knew all laid that on you? This leads me to my topic for this blog. The difference in living and surviving. And how truly different those two things are!! 

If you were to define living what would say? To me living is just that, being able to go about your “normal” life with little to no pain. Not really thinking about your illness because if is not effecting your daily life. You can come and go as you please and not have to think about your daily spoon use. You can go do the things you enjoy and the drop of a hat with no second thought. Or do nothing at all. But you have the decision because you feel GOOD!!

On the flip side surviving is just that. You are just getting by. You may be working and doing all the things that are required of you but that’s all you are doing. There are no extra events or fun activities because there is no energy. Even the activities that should be simple like showering or doing makeup are to strenuous and must be skipped to save energy for things later in the day. And when you are in survival mode you are definitely thinking about your spoon use! 

I asked some of the women in a support group that I help run about their definition of living vs surviving and this is what they had to say! 

One fellow Survivor said this “Living is being able to enjoy and do what you love. It is exploring, traveling, dropping everything and with no plan getting in the car and driving for the weekend and exploring back roads and meeting people. Surviving is figuring out if you can drive to your doctors appointment without killing others and not caring if you die. It is living on yogurt and eggo waffles because cooking is to hard. It is knowing the house or apartment is trashed but you can’t do anything about it because the friends and family have given up because there is no “getting better.” “

Another had this to say, “My husband always tells doctors that I am alive but is not living. I think you can substitute surviving for alive. What he means is I’m breathing, but I have no life beyond my bed. So to us, surviving is just getting through each day, while living is doing all this things I took for granted before I got sick…going out to eat, seeing a movie, going on vacation, watching my son play baseball. The list is endless.” 

Both of those are so true. They both do an excellent job of explaining what it means to live versus survive. And how different those two ways of life can be. Living is enjoying life and doing what you want when you want. While surviving is truly finding a way to make it through each task with the end goal of getting back to bed or the couch as quickly as possible. 

So what do you do to get through those times when you are just surviving? Those times when people ask how you are and you wish you could really be honest, but instead you just tell them you are doing fine! Here are a few simple tips to get through those times when you feel like you are just simply surviving. 

1. Do only the things that are essential! The bathrooms, the vacuuming and dusting can be put off for a few days until you are feeling better. The things like showering, dressing and general activities of daily living are more essential and those tasks should be focused on first. 

2. If you have someone available ask for help. If you have a spouse, kids or even coworkers (not always an option I know) who can take over some of the tasks that for you are too hard to do at this time. 

3. Rest, Rest, Rest!  Take any and every chance you can to rest. Even if you can only take a 15 min power nap to close your eyes and recenter yourself, use that time to so so. If you can schedule in a 2 hour nap then do that. Just rest. Whenever and however you can. 

4. Even during the good times make sure that you take time for you. Whether that’s something as simple as a nightly bath by yourself after the kids go to bed.  Or something a little more elaborate like a mani/pedi and a massage once a month. Whatever it is is FIND TIME FOR YOU!!  

5. Last bit definitely not LEAST. Find someone you can confide in. Someone who understands the daily struggles and will be there for you to lean on emotionally. Whether this is your spouse, your bestie, a counselor or someone you’ve never met but have connected to in an online support group. Whoever it may be, having someone to talk to will really help when you are struggling. 

So as you can see there is a definite difference in living versus surviving. This may not be something you’ve ever thought about if you don’t live with a chronic illness that causes you periods of poor health and exhaustion. But it’s a real thing. Yes, technically we are all living but you have to look at quality of life as well. That’s where the term surviving comes into play. At times when you are doing just that. Just simply making it through each day alive. Remember there are groups out there with others going through situations similar to yours and they will be not only great Resources but they can also be a place where great lifelong friendships can be made.  

2 Replies to “Living vs Surviving ”

  1. So I hope this comes out right. There are many healthy people out there who are just surviving as well ( I know because I am one and have been one for many years). I suffer from all the things you mentioned. The sad part, is that I have let that happen to myself: out of guilt, busyness, emotional pain, loneliness, fear… This post and the combination of work I have been doing over the past few months have really made me look at my life. I have the physical and emotional ability to “live” every day yet my choices are causing me to just “survive”. My heart goes out to all of you who are “survivors” because you don’t have a choice. This has inspired me to enjoy my life and really live. I don’t know what that looks like but I’m going to find out. I read in a book recently that joy is not a big thing or something to work for. Joy is found in the ordinary everyday moments. Maybe this will help all the “survivors” out there. Just find little bits of joy at a time. It might be the day you actually feel like wearing makeup, or the morning you notice a beautiful sunrise before you fall back into bed still exhausted. At then end of your life those will add up to something unimaginable.

    1. That’s awesome Stephanie and you are very very right. There are LOTS of people who aren’t chronically ill are just surviving. Thank You for making me look at this differently!! Life in general can sometimes just suck. Especially when we let ourselves get into such a rut. I hope you can find your happiness again as well!’

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