Coping with chronic illness
Unfortunately, this is a topic that I am very familiar with. Being born with cystic fibrosis(CF) was my first challenge. My mother had cystic fibrosis too and passed away in 2000, one week after her 50th birthday and the day after my 29th birthday. Doctors and hospitals have been a constant part of my life and still are.
Getting older and dealing with deteriorating health isn’t something that I suffer with alone. 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. About 15 million people in the UK have a chronic long term 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.
The psychological impact of chronic illness
When your body begins to malfunction it can be frustrating – the mind is willing but the body is unable. Psychologically it becomes crucial to adapt and make allowances for your physical status. I now work from home whereas before I used to do a two hour daily commute to work and back. There is no way I would be able to cope with that now. Staying mentally strong, even though not possible 100% of the time, is key to managing and coping with illness.
One thing that illness has enabled me to do is to engage in a more philosophical approach to life. Perhaps illness and deterioration of health is nature’s way of helping us to detach from our physical bodies. There have been times when my physical body has been a liability and I have welcomed the idea of being free from it.
How to cope:
Focus on what you can control – get enough sleep, eat well and exercise if you can. Stay mentally alert by reading and being interested in the world around you. Thanks to computers, we can stay in bed and still work when we need to.
Prioritise what you need to get done and let go of the rest. You might have to adjust but accept that life slows down for everyone eventually. See the positives in a slower life where you can really appreciate the process of life rather than racing through crazily, living life digitally rather than in the real world.
Choose to adjust your thinking – there is good and bad to every situation.
Be involved in your care. My mother believed that the doctors were always right and never questioned their methods. I-question-everything. Doctors don’t always get it right, in fact they quite often get it wrong. I live in my body and in many ways I am the expert on what I am experiencing. Doctors go on text book knowledge and the law of averages.
Annoyingly, when you have more than one illness, each specialist blames your symptoms on the other illness. I have had liver complications recently and my liver Doc blames all symptoms on the cystic fibrosis. When I see the CF doc he blames symptoms on my liver issues… as a result neither deals with the symptoms Arrghgh…what fun!
Knowledge and information helps me cope and that is why I ask a million-and-one questions and drive the doctors batty. All in the name of science!
When times seem really tough, take things one day at a time. Be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to temporarily ease yourself away from the hectic life you lead. Listen to your body – it sends you lots of messages and signs.
I am not a religious person but I am spiritual in that I like the idea that there are forces we know nothing about and things are unfolding as they are meant to. This brings me comfort.
Keep the faith and a sense of humour…