How To Live Well With A Chronic Illness
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.