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Coping With a Chronic Illness

When an illness moves from being a short term, acute challenge with the promise of a fairly rapid recovery to a problem that feels like a long and arduous journey, the result can be despair and hopelessness.  How will you redesign your life to accommodate whatever limitations you feel have been imposed on you?

There may also a sense of loss for the dreams you had for your future.  Things you once believed you would do sometime down the road, now may seem impossible.  Find a positive attitude and the willingness to find a “new normal” can be more than a challenge.

I remember well my own reaction when my ability to exercise felt limited and my energy level made it difficult for me to do some of things I used to be able to do.  One thing I learned early on in my illness, however, was the power of taking even a small, forward moving step.  Inertia breeds more inertia and, if you let it get you down, you may soon discover that your desire to be an active participant in your life as dwindled away.

HOPE is essential is you are to find your way to a regaining your health and your life.  HOPE that there is an answer.  HOPE that someone out there can offer some different, perhaps out of the box answers you haven’t considered yet.  HOPE that tomorrow, next week, and next year will be better.

HOPE requires three things, I believe.

  1. It requires you to celebrate in yourself all the places in your past where you moved past other difficulties. All those places where you felt your back was up against a wall and there was no place to go but you found a way, despite the odd.  All those times where you managed to find the courage to make a choice or a decision to try something else that, in the end, made a difference.  This offers a concrete reminder that even though you feel stuck and discouraged in this moment, you have been there before and found the resilience to get through it.
  2. A safe and stable hand to hold. The believe that you have to go it alone is one of the most damaging things for people facing any type of chronic illness.  Asking for help is a sign of strength and can be an essential ingredient in helping you find a way to cope.  It might a family member, a friend, a health care professional or a counsellor – the choice doesn’t matter as long as they provide non-judgemental support and a consistent listening ear.  The person must be a safe harbour in your storm who stands strong and firm for you when you falter a little.
  3. Some small, even tiny, action that you choose to make. If you feel stuck and don’t take any action at all in support of yourself and your situation, your sense of being in control of your own life begins to disappear.  You begin to feel more and more like a victim and this makes it even more difficult to find the positive desire to help yourself.  It matters not what step you take or that you convince yourself you must take the “perfect” step.  What matter is that you try something different to shake up your life and it is something you, yourself, have chosen.  It might be as simple as having a shower first thing every morning, planning regular dates to connect with friends, or a commitment to return to your doctor to ask for more help.  Whatever you choose to do, make it something small so you will be successful as one success breeds more successes.

If you spend time ensuring that your life contains all three of these items, I am confident that your sense of hope will return and you will begin to feel better, whatever your challenge.

In addition, here are a few ideas you can use as stepping-stones to help you deal with your feeling of being overwhelmed. If you work your way through each one, the path you want to take should become clearer

Consider these questions:

  • What is most important to you in your life? What do you value above all else?
  • How much influence does stress play in your life? Are the symptoms of stress interfering with your ability to cope and to problem solve?
  • How balanced is your life? Are you spending excessive time managing one piece at the expense of another?
  • If you life is feeling unbalanced, what area would you most like to focus on now?
  • How will focusing on this one part of your life help you cope with all the others aspects?
  • What solution would move you closer in the direction of what really matters to you, help decrease your stress level, and bring more balance to your life?
  • What solution do you know in your heart would be the best one to make?


Further Reading

Explore more about: Chronic Illness or For Caregivers

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