Chaos Theory and Chronic Illness


First off let me make it clear that I’m neither a mathematician nor a physicist, so what I say about Chaos Theory comes from a lay person’s perspective and what I learned in a college course I took some 20 years ago when I went back to school for a year. I learned a lot that year and was voted the Strange Attractor (a Chaos Theory term) of my study group for my insight into the subject so I have some validation for what I say. Simply put I see Chaos Theory as having 4 major components to it. It posits that things described by it are 1) Random and 2) Unpredictable, but also 3) Repeatable and 4) Boundaried. I see these elements of it all around me and in particular in my Invisible Illnesses and I’ll try to give some ideas of why I think this to be so, and how it can help you in your life.

I find it helps me to think of things using Chaos Theory a lot because it gives me a context for some things that are so out of my ability to cope with that they truly challenge my reality structure. Illness is certainly the major one of these in my life. Relationships can be another one for some people I think. And work can be, even gardening which I talk about in my other blog tho I haven’t added Chaos Theory to it, yet… If I think in terms of the way Chaos Theory puts things in context for me it helps me feel more in control of this and less like I’m in a small rowboat floating on the sea without the proverbial paddle. I have a context for my struggles and can feel a sense of being able to monitor things at least if not control them.

First  off I’ll start at the end of my list and say that illness is clearly boundaried,  by our bodies and our minds,  and then by our societies and relationships. We live in a context in other words. Pretty simple I guess but significant. Using any of these parameters is useful at times, depending on what you’re experiencing. If you can see, for instance, that your depression is in your Mind, and not in the society or reality of Fact around you then maybe you can come to terms with it as a mood disorder rather than your true Reality as I so often struggle with myself. It’s so hard to get out of my head and know that it isn’t really Real but just the latest mood I’m in at the time. So this boundary is helpful to me and keeps me from going over the edge sometimes. It helps me stay sane.

Secondly it’s Unpredictable. I frequently don’t have a clue when I’m about to experience one of my Invisible Illnesses. They come over me and take me away and I’m lost. But knowing that this is true helps me when it happens as I realize that it’s Repeatable. It’s happened before and will happen again (Unless it’s a new symptom of course and that can happen at any time unfortunately). It’s the repeatability that helps me here in the unpredictability of it all. Since I know what it’s like to have an episode of chronic back pain I know what to expect and since I know that I can take counter measures to alleviate my conditions. I can take meds first of all. And I can stop what I’m doing that may be causing me harm. I can take a break and rest for a bit. If I know these things always helped when I suffer the back pain then I can do something about it and that’s the key to some sense of control even tho it’s illusory it’s also real.

And finally they’re random. And that’s the hardest part of it all for me. I’m a control freak and I’ll admit it. I’ve noticed that many of us who suffer from chronic illness have control “issues”,  because we’re so out of control with our illness that we seek it out in other areas of our lives, whether it be in our relationships or simply in insisting on what foods we want to eat and where to spend our time and how. We have to have some areas where we feel in control because we don’t have it with our illness. So when an illness is so random it throws us off kilter. It makes things so out of control it really  can be scary and frightening. But again, knowing that is the case is the key to self mastery. If you want to gain some measure of autonomy at any time and know that you always have to be prepared for it, you can again take counter measures to protect yourself. Whether it’s carrying a few pills for breakthru pain or for migraines as I do, or learning some meditation exercises you can count on it to help you when you have a panic attack, there are things you can do to help yourself. Knowing it can happen randomly then becomes less of an issue and you can learn techniques to protect yourself and be safer.

So all together now –  You can know that things happen in repeatable ways within certain boundaries and that they are random and unpredictable so you can plan ahead and learn the terrain of your illness. Study and educate yourself on what you’re dealing with and learn how others have dealt with it and you’ll have the tools to deal with things when they happen to you. Of course it’s not so simple as I make it sound. It’s really hard in fact. But you can do it. Being awake when you deal with your illnesses is the strongest way to cope with them. And awakening to the tools and techniques and concepts of how I’m looking at Chaos Theory can be a valuable way to interact with your life in general and your illness in specific. Think about some of the things and please give me some  feedback if you find it helps you or if you think this just shows I really am crazy. I don’t mind… I just want to help people to feel better and have more tools with which to address their illnesses. The more you know the better off you are in my opinion. So try this on for size and see if it helps you. Life is inherently Chaotic but knowing that makes it easier to cope with it, and that makes all the difference.

Chaotically yours,



2 comments on “Chaos Theory and Chronic Illness

  1. I’ve been trying to get myself to similar place of ‘acceptance’ lately — as you put it “feel more in control of this and less like I’m in a small rowboat floating on the sea” — and this framing helps me get there. Whether by actual chaos theory or simply by your framing, it helped. Thanks!


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