Tools for Dealing with a Chronic Illness
“One does not consider their health until
they no longer have it.”
Who ever thinks about “Tools for Dealing with a Chronic Illness”? It’s not something you consider until it’s too late. When you become sick you lose control of so many things in your life that it becomes extremely important to take responsibility for what you can control. That means instead of reaching for the 1/2 gallon of ice cream to throw yourself another pity party you instead choose to go for a walk, to meditate, read a book or watch your favorite comedian on T.V. You do what you know you need to do to help yourself. When you take action to help yourself, you empower yourself which eventually will lead to better health!
It sounds easy, but it is not. It requires effort, concentration, belief in yourself and support from your loved ones to validate what you know you have to do. You will get lots of advice from friends and family, but the truth is that intuitively we all know what we need to do to help ourselves.
#1 Tending to your spirit
A chronic illness provides you with an opportunity for reflection and self realization. Feeding your soul is just as important as feeding your body. It is vitally important that you find ways to nourish and replenish your soul.
If you do nothing else find a way to make peace with where you are right now in your life. With an illness you only have control over a handful of things. This is what you must embrace. Know that your value is not in what you accomplish or what you own but simply in the fact that you exist.
“Participate in activities that make you feel whole, alive and one with the universe.” Here are some suggestions:
-Read books that inspire you
-Watch movies that motivate you
-Avoid movies and books that support you in perpetuating self pity.
-Seek counseling if you need support. If you’re dealing with a life altering illness you most likely do need counseling and only an objective party can help guide you through this journey.
-Try new things- yoga, meditation, prayer
-Enjoy the outdoors, experience the richness of nature
-Develop a hobby
-Bring music and art into your environment
–Write about your experience. This is absolutely vital. What you are going through is painful in so many ways. The loss that comes with illness is so great on so many levels that you need to create an outlet to express yourself. Stuffing your feelings can be like poison to your body.
-Maintain some type of social network. I realize that you may have lost many friends in this process. Sadly it is a natural part of dealing with a chronic illness. But you must build some sort of support system whether it is via the internet or reconnecting and rebuilding family relationships. Healthy living includes deep and meaningful relationships – they are a part of our life force and help in the healing process.
-CRY. That’s right cry. Get it out. This situation sucks and makes you want to cry. If you don’t, it’s going to come out when you’re not looking and then you will be really upset. It is healthy, it is natural, and it is necessary.
To learn more about tending to your spirit go to Healthy Spirit
#2 Speak your mind/Express Yourself
Here is the bottom line when you have a chronic illness. You will either learn how to communicate honestly with people or you will end up alone and lost. “Honest, clear communication with friends and family is vital to your mental and physicalwellbeing.”
Get honest with yourself and say what you have to say at the moment you feel it. If it comes out wrong you can always apologize later. This is an emotional, surreal time in your life and most likely you no longer have the control over your life you once had. Your relationships with people are going to change because your life has changed. Some of your friends and family may not be able to deal with you speaking your truth. That is simply their problem, not yours. You didn’t ask to have a chronic illness and you are doing the best you can. Just communicate what you are feeling and it will free you from the self-oppression that is so common with illness.
You need to be as clear with your doctors as you are with your friends and family. Your doctor can only do a good job if you communicate your symptoms and experiences with him/her in a simple and clear manner. Write things down before you go to the doctor. Keep a daily log. It is easy to forget from day to day. If you are unhappy with your doctor, let him/her know how you feel. Keep in mind you are paying your doctor to help you. If you are not getting what you need, let them know. If they do not respond to your needs find another doctor. There are wonderful doctors out there so keep looking and keep communicating.
#3 Accept your situation /Take things one hour at a time
It takes a while but you are going to have to accept your situation for what it is. One thing I realized is that my view of life changed from having goals and experiences to just surviving minute to minute. When you deal with illness and pain you have to shift your way of doing things and accept that sometimes just getting out of bed can be an enormous accomplishment. Set goals and priorities according to your energy levels and abilities for that day. Tomorrow may be different, but for today it is what it is. “Permit yourself to achieve your goal in small steps instead of all at once. Always allow yourself to rest when needed and give yourself permission to leave things unfinished. Be flexible and accept your limits. Allow yourself time to recuperate.”
Most importantly, ask for help. Learn to accept help from others. It empowers you and others. People need to feel they are helping you and you need to learn that it doesn’t take away from who you are to accept help.
Humor is good for the spirit and the body, especially the immune system. Humor helps us keep things in perspective and maintain a positive attitude which I believe can help us heal our bodies. With humor, life seems so much more manageable. Truly I have never laughed more than in the last six years. Some of the alternative techniques that I have tried are straight out of a sitcom. Give yourself a reason to laugh everyday.
-Read a funny book
-Watch funny movies
-Keep funny quotes on the wall by your bed
-Socialize with funny people
-Laugh at yourself
To learn more about ways to heal through humor read my article Laughter the cure for all that ails you
#5 Avoid stress
If you have a chronic illness you absolutely must avoid stress at all costs. Life in general is stressful but you have to learn how to minimize the stress and how to react to stress in a healthy manner. It is amazing how stress can affect someone dealing with a health issue. It is like adding fuel to a fire. It can exacerbate any current symptoms and add additional symptoms. Stress is like putting poison in your body. Technically it releases a chemical which causes inflammation creating additional health issues.
It is important to remain attentive to negative stress symptoms and to learn to identify the situations that evoke them. When these symptoms persist, you are at risk for more serious health problems because stress can exhaust your immune system. Recent research demonstrates that 90% of illness is stress-related. For additional information on how stress affects illness visit again in the near future and look for my new article Chronic Illness and Stress; a Fatal combination.
To combat stress:
-Eliminate stressful people from your life. This may sound harsh, but it’s necessary to put yourself in the healthiest possible environment.
-Accept your current situation and learn to value yourself for who you are and not what you accomplish.
-Learn to enjoy the small things in life
-Laugh like you did when you were a child
-Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the coulda, woulda, shoulda syndrome. It is what it is and you do the best you can with what you are given.
-The only expectation you have to meet is your own. So change your expectations.
-Seek out stress reducing techniques like Meditation
#6 The Important people in your life
Having a loving and supportive relationship can provide so much healing energy for a person dealing with a chronic illness. It needs to be tended to and not neglected in the chaos of dealing with a new illness. “It will undoubtedly be a strain and stress on the relationship and has the potential to erode or destroy it if left unchecked.” It will be necessary to make a conscious effort to provide support for your partner as well as get the support you need to deal with your health issues.
Because your illness can be so demanding of your energy and time you need to recognize that your partner’s needs may be neglected. You need to encourage that your partner take private time to refuel and have other outlets. You need to deal with the impact the illness has on your relationships directly and honestly.
In my relationship we found it to be extremely helpful to keep a clear understanding that the negative feelings we had were about the illness and not about me as a person. We got angry at the fact that I was sick and how much it had changed our lives. You have to remember that your partner didn’t sign up to take care of a sick person for the rest of your lives. They are going to have strong feelings about this and need a private outlet to express them without having to worry about how you will react. They are allowed to be angry just as you are allowed to be angry about your illness. Love can be so healing. Don’t neglect one of the things that can help you deal with your illness and give you the desire to find ways to help yourself live a healthier life.
#7 Proper Nutrition
You are what you eat. We have heard it a thousand times and guess what, it’s true! What you eat has a profound impact on your mental and physical health. Eating a healthy diet is essential for the body to heal. The bottom line is you are going to have to cut out some of your favorite foods and add all the foods that your mother told you to eat. This doesn’t mean that you can’t occasionally treat yourself, but for the most part this is your major job in your recovery. This is what you can control and one sure way you can improve your health.
”You should try to eliminate things such as sugar, caffeine, refined foods and unhealthy fats. Replace these with whole foods such as vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, fruits and fresh meat and poultry. Your diet should be free of chemicals and toxins found in most diets such as pesticides, herbicides, hormones, additives, dyes and preservatives.” The natural healing process can’t take place in a body that is busy trying to eliminate the toxins we keep consuming.
These are the basic steps you need to take:
-Do not drink soda or diet soda; make sure you eliminate any foods or beverages that contain chemical sweeteners such as aspartame.
-Drink lots of WATER!
-Eat your 5 fruits and vegetables a day.
-Try and eliminate processed foods. Most foods that come pre-made in a box or bag fall into this category.
-If you can afford it, buy organic. If not, at least buy the foods you consume the most organic and the rest make sure you wash really well before eating.
-Empty your house of all the goodies you have stashed for those emergency feel good sessions! If it’s in the house, don’t expect that you will be able to have the will power to not eat that yummy food. That is just setting yourself up for failure.
If you would like to learn more about proper nutrition read my article on How Nutrition Promotes Healthy Living.
As a person dealing with a chronic illness and knowing what it is like not to be able to get out of bed, I can understand your first response, “I am too sick to exercise.” But the bottom line is exercise is absolutely crucial for the mind, body and soul. If all you can do is curl your toes then curl your toes, but you have to move your body!
When the body is in movement it releases endorphins that improve our emotional state and act as a natural pain reliever. It also is a wonderful outlet for relieving depression, stress, and anxiety which are all a natural part of dealing with a chronic illness.
“The bottom line is regular exercise improves energy levels, helps you sleep better, promotes healthy bowels, boosts the immune system, and aids your body in the natural healing process.”
-Don’t set your goals too high. You don’t want to stress your body you want to move your body.
-This isn’t about losing weight or how you look. This is about moving the body so it can function to its fullest capacity.
-No excuses – move what you can, when you can and your body will respond.
#9 Take an Active Role in Your Health Care
Personally this is a very difficult task to accomplish. My experience with the medical community has varied. I have been very disappointed and frustrated at times. You will run across doctors that are not helpful and do not necessarily have your best interest in mind. This is where you must take responsibility. If your doctor is unwilling to accept you taking an active role in your health care and is unwilling to accept that you know your body better than anybody else, then change doctors!
”You’re with your body 24 hours a day, so no one knows how your illness or how certain medications or treatments impact you and your life, better than you do. Research and pursue all viable avenues and present your physician with options.” There are great doctors out there that really want to help guide you through your illness. It is your job to find those doctors.
#10 Educate Yourself/Question
Research, Research, Research. “Learn everything you possibly can about your illness and your options. Speak with physicians, nutritionists, alternative health providers, and other individuals with your same condition.” Go to the library and read everything you can get your hands on. Do research on the internet. “Saturate your mind with knowledge about all aspects of your condition so that you can make informed choices.” Knowledge is power. But then apply it, applied knowledge is the true power! Question what advice you get from doctors. Doctors hold a tremendous amount of knowledge and can be incredibly helpful but they are not all knowing and sometimes their advice is not what is going to help you. Ultimately it is your decision. Use your intuition, your personal knowledge and your doctor to make your health care decisions. Remember, you are in charge!
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