A chronic illness is defined as any disorder that persists over a long period and affects physical, emotional, intellectual, vocational, social, or spiritual functioning. Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 8th edition
1 Allow yourself to grieve.
With chronic illness comes a sense of loss and mourning – mourning over what was meant to be, lost dreams, loss of the person that existed before the chronic illness. Psychologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identifies 5 stages of grief:
1 Denial and Isolation
Think about where you are right now within these 5 stages. Know that it is normal, and it is ok, to be feeling what you are feeling. Realise that it is normal not to go through these stages in sequence, but that you can go through any of the stages first and there is no set timeline to do so. For example, if you reach a a stage of acceptance, it doesn’t mean that you won’t begin to feel angry, or go through depression. It is common also to go through more than one stage at any one time – so you could be in denial about your illness and also going through a stage of depression. Try to become more mindful of how you are feeling, and accept those feelings. Which brings me to the next tip…
If you have a chronic illness, you will have good days and awful days. It can be an emotional roller coaster going from one to the other. Acceptance is so important as it helps to bring your emotions into balance on the bad days; understanding that there are some things that you simply do not have control over and accepting this, can be a powerful tool in coping with chronic illness. Acceptance does not mean giving up or giving in to the illness. Acceptance is being mindful of the present – that you are feeling this way today. Perhaps accepting that there is a limitation on what you can physically do this day. Acceptance is saying ‘I am aware that I am unable to do x y and z for now. I acknowledge and accept that I feel really lonely and upset today because of this’. By accepting your feelings and the reality of your situation, you are able to process these emotions and do the next step, whatever that step might be for you – doing something that you can do on that particular day; taking positive action in your treatment plan; taking action to reduce the feeling of loneliness. Acceptance cultivates a sense of peace even in very difficult circumstances.
Living with a chronic illness can mean an uncertain future, feelings of loneliness and despair. Before realising it you can be plunged into a life of isolation. Maybe you don’t want to burden your friends or family with your worries, or perhaps you have lost touch with friends simply because of the challenges of living with a chronic illness. Either way, you do not have to go through this alone. Reach out to your loved ones, you need them more than ever at this time. There are many others who have chronic health struggles, facing the challenges and frustrations that go along with it. With the technology we have these days you should be able to connect with people who can share your burden and reduce your sense of isolation. Ideally, an offline face to face support group would be ideal as technology can never take the place of being someone in person. Find out what is in your area, and if there isn’t anything why not start a support group?
4 Take Control
When you are chronically ill, there is a feeling of loss of control, of helplessness. There is much that you have no control over, and this is why it is important to focus your attention on what you can control. Can you take control of aspects of your health such as exercise or diet? Can you be involved in your treatment plan – make sure you consider all the treatment options and your voice is heard. If you have been forced to stop particular activities because of your illness, perhaps you can think about searching out new activities/hobbies that you are able to be involved in and thereby gain a sense of empowerment.