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How To Live Well With A Chronic Illness

Updated on February 18, 2008

Staying healthy so life can be enjoyed is a top priority for most people. Millions are spent each year on exercise regimes, vitamin supplements, counseling and ‘super foods’. Television channels and the Internet are flooded with programs and products that will help you ‘stay in shape’, ‘live longer’, ‘boost energy’ and ‘reverse aging’.

As a species we are obsessed with the packaging known as our bodies. What happens though when that packaging rebels?

How do you enjoy life when each morning is greeted with pain, illness, fatigue and medication?

Chronic illness can strike without warning. It does not discriminate and it does not go away. Children and adults are affected equally, with genetic disorders featuring high on the list of lifelong illnesses. Whether you know the cause of what is making you sick or whether your sudden demise is a mystery to doctors, learning how to not just survive but thrive is paramount.

A Correct Diagnosis

Finding a great doctor is the first step to feeling better. Stress will always cause symptoms of a chronic illness to flare up, and there is nothing more stressful than constantly arguing with your primary caregiver.

Establishing a good relationship with your doctor will promote more open dialog regarding your condition. Trusting that your Specialist will do the research and offer cutting edge treatments for your disease is also crucial to your quality of life.

Unfortunately not all doctors are created equal.

In any profession you have workers who do the minimum needed to keep their job and workers who push the boundaries in an effort to excel in a career that they are passionate about. When you are faced with an illness that will be with you for the rest of your life, and may even become more debilitating as you age, then you want the person who’s fighting the hardest in your corner. They are the ones who will do thorough research, who will attend conferences to learn about breakthrough treatments and they are the ones who will ensure you have a correct diagnosis.

Many chronic illnesses have symptoms that are very similar but treatments that are very different. An accurate diagnosis and new medicine could mean a great change to your quality of life.

Never rush the diagnostic phase.

As difficult as it is to wait for tests to show changes or for doctors to get a consensus on your disease it is extremely important for your future happiness. (As an example: The usual time from onset of symptoms to accurate diagnosis for Lupus is anywhere from 3-10 years. However, being absolutely sure it is Lupus is critical as the treatment is sometimes worse than the illness itself.)

Grieve For Your Loss

To be able to enjoy the life you have been given, you must grieve for the life that you have lost.

Being diagnosed with an illness is akin to losing a loved one. When such major events happen in our lives it batters us psychologically. We must work through the five stages of grief and let go of all the things that we can no longer accomplish if we wish to feel joy again.

The five stages of grief as introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book "On Death and Dying" are:

Denial and Isolation






The grieving process is a crucial step to creating a new life. When you are sick you can no longer go out partying with your friends all night, your carefree youth will be taken from you. The illness will steal precious moments from your spouse and children. Travel sometimes will not be possible and on the really bad days friends and family may need to take charge of your life. This is the reality and it has to be faced so plans and goals for the future can be altered.

It is our desire for things to be different from what they are that causes us the most heartache in life. That is why acceptance will help you to smile again.

Relaxation Is Key

Chronic illness causes great stress for the body. Every cell is in a constant state of flux and struggle; it is fighting itself every minute of every day.

With the body already so overloaded limiting outside stressors becomes a primary goal. The more stress placed upon you, the sicker you will feel. The more harmonious your environment the healthier you will feel.

Sometimes this means a radical change in lifestyle. Saying goodbye to that high-powered executive position for a simpler, more relaxed career can be difficult but necessary. Leaving a completely unsupportive spouse or partner can break your heart but save your life in the long term.

The rules of the game are not the same for sick people as they are for healthy people. Every minute, every breath, every sunset where you feel good is a triumph. The more moments like these that you can string together the more enjoyable your life will be.

Engaging in activities that promote relaxation such as meditation, tai chi, slow, peaceful walking, listening to music and massage will help your overall health and well being.

Learn your Limits

Do not judge yourself by how other people live their lives!

Often times we can be overly critical of ourselves. When we suffer from an illness our bodies only have a limited amount of energy available for use.

So it is time to prioritize.

Figure out what you can realistically accomplish in a day without adversely affecting your health. Set new achievable goals for yourself and celebrate when you reach them. Depression is a major hindrance to being as healthy as you can be. Do not allow yourself to become overwhelmed by mundane tasks that sap your strength and leave you emotionally bereft.

For example, hire a cleaning service to take care of the housework for you. If your finances don’t allow it then try making arrangements with friends or family. One lesson that is best learnt early is that you can’t do everything on your own. If you are ill you will have to ask for help. It is inevitable and it is okay. The people who care the most only want to see you happy.

Delegate tasks that irritate, frustrate or generally have a negative effect on your psyche. Work hard on jobs that are uplifting, positive and give you a sense of accomplishment.

Attitude Is Everything

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness does not mean your life is over. Socializing with friends, having a romantic relationship, being involved in the community and traveling are still viable options that are integral to creating positivity in your life.

Plan events during periods when you are feeling better and rest during times when the illness flares up. Plan trips overseas to places where medical care is accessible if you need it. You are going to be sick for the rest of your life, so don’t hide away out of fear. Look at it logically; you can either be sick at home or sick enjoying a view of the Eiffel Tower from your hotel balcony. The trip may tax you physically but will uplift you emotionally. When faced with years of illness, keeping your spirits soaring is more important than anything else.

Surround yourself with positive people who accept your illness. Do not allow friends or family to burden you with their negativity. Plan to do something fun everyday, even if it’s something simple like watching a favorite movie while curled up on your couch.

Laugh at the ridiculous things that are happening to your body. Try hard to retain your sense of humor throughout all the tests and treatments you endure. Focus on the funny side of life as much as possible.

Designate your house as the entertainment location for your friends, they cook the supper and clean up, you provide the space. That way you can join in the fun, remain in the comfort of your home and retire early if you need to. Caring friends will understand if you have to lie down and will be happy to spend whatever time they can with you.

Choose romantic partners wisely. A loving mate can be an inspiration. Don’t settle because you feel unworthy or somehow broken. No one is perfect. Having a wonderful support system behind you will ensure a higher quality of life.

Living well with a chronic illness is more about attitude than about what is happening physically. Learn to accept, let go, enjoy the small things and laugh out loud everyday. This will ensure your life is filled with light and love and more good days than bad.


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Wow, I'm so glad I found this article. I have fibromyalgia & chronic fatigue. It's been so discouraging defending myself from the hurtful comments and lack of validation I get from my husband. Your article is so inspiring to me. Gives me a path to follow thru all this. Thankyou for your wise words. I will keep this as one of my important tools to refer back to often. I hope there will be more....

    • Chef Jeff profile image

      Chef Jeff 

      7 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

      As one who lives through a chronic illness, I found your hub extremely helpful! Keep up the great work!


      Chef Jeff

    • teamrn profile image


      7 years ago from Chicago

      These 2 points stuck out at me: Get an accurate diagnosis, GET AN ACCURATE DIAGNOSIS. How can you prevent something from getting the best of you if you don't know what it is? That involves educating yourself after you get that diagnosis. Educate yourself about the current treatments. Learn which internet sites give reliable information.

      Another really important factor is your acceptance of any limitations that the diagnosis places on you, on your life. I'm still in that stage, working to accept the limitations my diagnosis places on me, not having the things I took for granted are losses. I know this in my head, but not in my heart and soul. Any thoughts' anyone?

      Some say that I'm a shining example of one who 'lives well with chronic illnesses.' To myself, I'm NO example. I can explain the pitfalls of dealing with a chronic illness TO OTHERS. But, do I heed my own advice? Not at all!

      But the number # 1 piece of advice is to go easy on yourself, to love yourself, no-one singled you out and decided that YOU deserved lifes' problems. Two things come to mind, "An able man has many burdens; as I am abler than most, I have more than most!"

      And my personal favorite by Mother Teresa, "I know God won't give me more than I can handle; I just wish He didn't trust me so much!" Annie

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This hub is like a 'breath of fresh air' especially for someone whose life does revolve around managing PAIN.

      Well constructed and thought-out information that is truly invaluable and gives us a different perspective on pain and pain management.

      Thanks RFox ... you're a gem!

    • Theresa_Kennedy profile image

      Theresa Kennedy 

      8 years ago from Minnesota

      Excellent hub! One other thing to add- gratitude. No matter how bad we think we have it, there is always someone out there who has it worse (age-old cliche'). And no matter our circumstance, there is ALWAYS something for which we can be grateful.

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Thank you everyone for your comments! Sorry I have been absent lately and glad you found my hub helpful.

      Keep fighting the good fight! :)

    • abonded4life profile image


      8 years ago from Kitchener ontario

      Everything you wrote in this hub have hit home for me.I suffer from a chronic disease that lead to chronic pain. I have gone through the five process of acceptance you talk about and i have tried the humor, relaxation and others. The only thing i deeply wish i have, is the support of friends and family. Anyway many,many thanks.

    • Ms. Stephanie profile image

      Ms. Stephanie 

      8 years ago from North Dakota

      I like the part about grieving for your loss. I never really thought of it like that but it is very true!

    • dbtyon profile image


      8 years ago from TEXAS

      I really like what you have to say here... so true, so true. I suffer from Chronic Recurring Bronchitis (which puts me in the hospital on average 3-4 times a year) and I am also partially disabled, due to a horseback riding accident eight years ago. I now walk with a cane, with some difficulty. Furthermore, I suffer from many joint ailments and "phantom" pains (and I call them these because the doctors can never figure out what's causing them), as well as Extreme Anxiety Disorder and Manic Depression. Yet, despite all this, I feel compelled to thrust myself into whatever it is that God is bringing my way!

      Thank you for the work and thought that you put into this Hub... it was very much appreciated by me. I am a writer by nature, always knowing I would write a book someday, but not knowing what I was going to write about - but in my 45 years, God has given me plenty of material. My life rivals any good soap opera! If you want a good laugh, or some food for thought, check out my writing on (this provides links to my articles across the web).

      I look forward to getting to know you, RFox... take care, and God bless.

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Karen Braschuk: Wow, thanks. You just made my day!

    • profile image

      Karen Braschuk 

      10 years ago

      I just have one comment on this wonderful article: AMEN!

      I've just become a fan and one of your most devoted readers. Please continue to share your sensitive insights with us!

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      WeClick2Travel: Thanks for the wonderful comment!

      Of course I can accept my condition now because I've had 30 years of living with it. I think when you have never known what it is to be healthy it's easier to let go of the anger regarding your condition. I don't know what it's like to live without pain or illness of some kind and so I either had to accept it and learn to enjoy my life or crawl into a dark hole and give up. I believe facing your own mortality as a child allows one to realise just how short life can be and I don't want to waste one moment of it!

      I did go through depression when I was younger. I believe this is a natural phase for someone who is ill but I consider myself one of the lucky ones now. My illness isn't terminal and life is a huge gift.

    • WeClick2Travel profile image


      10 years ago from Northern Michigan


      I am trained as a massage therapist and in this role have worked with many people dealing with chronic pain, many of whom have no idea why. This hub is insightful and sensative. You show that it is possible to cope with a chronic condition without becoming bitter and blaming those around you because they don't know what's wrong. Brava! I'm going right now to become a fan.


    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Karen Ellis: Thank you for your comments.

      The doctors have finally given me an official diagnoses. I have a genetic disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome so I will live with pain and fatigue for the rest of my life. I keep my diet as healthy as possible to help boost my energy but there really isn't anything that can be done to alleviate my symptoms.

      Ehlers-Danlos affects the connective tissue, which is what causes all the problems. Luckily I have the benign kind so it can't kill me and at this point I'm used to the pain. Also it's not a disease that can suddenly get worse. I will end up with early onset osteoarthritis and I have to be careful not to dislocate my joints but aside from that I will be okay, which is a huge relief.

      I have spent my whole life sick without knowing why or if it will suddenly get worse. So finally understanding what the problem is and how it will affect me as I age is great. Knowledge is power as they say!

    • Karen Ellis profile image

      Karen Ellis 

      10 years ago from Central Oregon

      Very well done article. You might look into an alkiline diet.

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      LdsNana: Thank you for your compassionate comments.

    • LdsNana-AskMormon profile image

      Kathryn Skaggs 

      10 years ago from Southern California

      RFox -

      This is a very good Hub. So many suffer with chronic pain and must somehow find a way to discover their problem, or learn how to live with their condition.

      I have had a few experiences only, in my life, where I was not well for a short period of time. But, it has given me great empathy for those that do suffer in such chronic ways, and when I think upon those periods in my life - I have great compassion for those who suffer daily, nonstop.



    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Moonlake: Thank you!

    • moonlake profile image


      10 years ago from America

      Thanks for signing my hub. Enjoyed your hub also.

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Angela Harris: Thank you for stopping by!

    • Angela Harris profile image

      Angela Harris 

      10 years ago from Around the USA

      Excellent information as always.

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Skatoolaki: Thank you for sharing. I haved lived with a chronic illness since I was a very young child. Incredibly the Doctors still don't have a consensus on the cause. However, my Specialists are getting closer now to a definitive answer. I have been tested and examined for so many diseases and disorders over the course of my life (still have a couple more to go. Lol.) Now I've come to a place where I can laugh about it. The chronic fatigue, pain and nausea can be frustrating at times. However, I count myself as lucky because my mobility has not been affected so far. I can only imagine how much harder that makes it for you.

      Keep fighting the good fight. Glad you joined hub pages! :D

    • skatoolaki profile image


      10 years ago from Louisiana

      From someone who suffers with chronic pain and limited mobility, I think the advice and wisdom you share here is wonderful. It can be quite a daunting task learning to live with, and around, your chronic condition or illness, and you have provided some very helpful ideas and considerations.


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