Chronic illness is any condition that lasts for a year or longer. Examples of chronic illnesses that are familiar to many of us include things such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, autoimmune disorders, and multiple sclerosis.
PBS.org states that more than 125 million Americans have at least one chronic illness and estimates that by the year 2020, 157 million Americans will have a chronic illness.
These illnesses can cause a drastic change in one’s lifestyle. They can interfere with employment, interpersonal relationships, and individuals’ independence, and disrupt the normalcy of their lifestyle.
Individuals who suffer with chronic illnesses have to deal with the illness itself. They frequently must deal with the feelings of having the illness, the effects of the illness, difficulties obtaining treatment due to the health care crisis, and the side effects of medications used to treat the illness.
Individuals who suffer from chronic illnesses also are more likely to suffer from depression. The symptoms of depression are sometimes overlooked because they are overshadowed by the illness or dismissed as normal feelings of a person dealing with a chronic illness. Individuals dealing with chronic illness and depression should be evaluated to determine the source of the depression.
It also is common for individuals suffering from chronic illnesses to feel angry about their disease. They often feel a sense of loss. When working with individuals dealing with a chronic illness, I will often encourage them to work through the stages of grief. Many are familiar with the Kubler-Ross model, commonly known as the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
There are ways to make the best of life when dealing with a chronic illness. Consider the following tips to make it a little easier.
- Be involved in your treatment.Dealing with a chronic illness is stressful. You can decrease the stress that comes with dealing with your illness if you become an active participant in your treatment. Explore all treatment options and develop relationships with treatment providers. Do not be afraid to ask questions or express differing opinions. It is also important to have treatment providers you can trust and who make you feel like a priority.
- Follow a healthy diet.Good nutrition always results in better health. If you have special dietary instructions from your treatment provider, follow them. If not, be conscious of decisions when it comes to your daily food intake.
- Learn to accept your illness.When we are able to accept one thing, we are often able to move on to the next. Learn to accept your illness and do what you can to live the best life.
- Seek support.Whether you find strength in sharing with close friends or reaching out to a support group, get involved with others and share your experiences and hope. If you feel a little shy, or you are more private, consider an online support group where you can remain anonymous.
- Consider your spiritual journey.Research shows that those who have faith in a higher power and maintain a relationship with their higher power, along with being involved in a congregation/spiritual group have less stress as well as fewer physical symptoms.
- Find gratitude.Throughout the day find something to be grateful for. Whether you can find only one thing or several, one big thing or one small — just be grateful. Gratitude determines your attitude.
Dealing with a chronic illness is no walk in the park. It can be challenging. However, I believe we all have the ability to overcome difficult things. Challenge yourself to find your strengths in perceived weaknesses, joy in the time of pain, and the silver lining in every cloud.