We were taught a lot of useful things back in our school days like how to solve complex equations, speak English correctly, and use our logic and creativity to solve problems, but the one thing we were never taught is how to come to terms with a chronic illness. Society just hasn’t been given the tools to deal with this and receiving the news can deliver a devastating blow to the entire system. It’s bad enough dealing with the constant fatigue or pain and now you find out that there is no cure or complete end in sight for the symptoms.
Unfortunately, this is what it means to have a chronic illness – a disorder that will remain with you for the rest of your life. Just that sentence alone is enough to put a damper on things. In fact, the combination of what seems to be never-ending symptoms and news of the diagnosis does much more than putting a damper on the mood, it can knock you straight into depression. Studies estimate that about a third of individuals who live with a chronic illness are likely to show symptoms of depression. This figure doesn’t seem all too surprising if you think about it considering everything that unfolds from the minute you experience the first symptom until long after the diagnosis. However, coming to terms with the diagnosis and using a few coping skills can greatly improve your mindset and overall quality of life, even on the hardest days.
Be Gentle With Yourself
It is only human to want to place the blame on yourself or to repeatedly dwell on the same questions like “why me?” or “what have I done to deserve this?” Your feelings are valid and these emotions do come crashing over like a wave, but coming to peace with yourself and your body is an important step in taking back your life and managing the illness. It may feel like your body has betrayed you at times, but we are all susceptible to injury and illness, it is what makes life an incredible gift, even if it comes wrapped up in an old newspaper. Managing chronic pain or fatigue every day is already a challenge, adding self-blame to the mix only exacerbates the symptoms.
Learning to be gentle with yourself and dealing with the flood of emotions bit by bit can have a significant impact on your mindset and how you manage your condition going forward. Your illness may have put some limitations on the things you can or can’t do, but it doesn’t mean it’s your fault or that you can’t find ways to adapt to your new normal and make the most of it.
Equip Yourself With The Facts
Learning as much as you can about your condition is an extremely valuable tool in regaining control, managing your symptoms, and choosing the best treatment options available. Before going on a Google frenzy, you also need to be cautious about the information you find online. The internet is filled with scary and unverified information that will just cause your anxiety levels to soar through the roof. Instead, speak to health care professionals or other trustworthy sources to get the most accurate information about your condition.
Let Your Loved Ones Know
Dealing with the emotions and symptoms of a chronic illness may cause you to self-isolate. It is completely understandable to give yourself some time to wrap your head around the diagnosis and next steps going forward, but at some point, you are going to need a strong support system to help you through the tough times. If you do not have a close friend or family member to lean on, speak to your doctor about finding a community group that is dedicated to providing advice and support for your specific illness. There are many online groups and forums that are also extremely useful for information and connecting with people who are facing the same challenges as you.
Make Healthy Changes
Making some healthy changes to your diet and lifestyle can go a long way in managing chronic pain and fatigue. Quitting cigarettes, limiting alcohol consumption, and getting more exercise every day can help alleviate symptoms and limit the risk of developing other chronic conditions. In addition to kicking bad habits to the curb, you also want to evaluate your diet and start transitioning towards foods that benefit your health instead of worsening the symptoms. For example, many refined and processed foods are known to cause inflammation, which is something you want to steer clear of if you are dealing with joint pain, arthritis, or other conditions that cause chronic pain. Eating healthy also aids in boosting your overall mood because of the direct link between the gut and serotonin production.
Practice Self Care
Self-care doesn’t necessarily mean going to the spa and pampering yourself from head to toe. Yes, for some that is one of the best ways to feel rejuvenated and ready to take on anything that comes your way, however, for those who struggle to even make it to the front door without feeling like all their energy has suddenly vanished, self-care can mean something as simple as combing your hair or brushing your teeth. Even on the bad days, try to give yourself a little TLC. This could be anything like taking a long bath, sitting outside and enjoying a cup of tea, or getting dressed, even if it’s sweatpants and a shirt. Every little bit makes a difference.
Your Illness Does Not Define You
After receiving the diagnosis there are going to be times when you feel completely overwhelmed by the emotions that come with the news, but it is important to know that life doesn’t have to end. While there may be certain limitations to what you can do, you can still spend your time mingling with friends, catching up with family, or spending time on hobbies you enjoy. Your illness is only a small part of you, it does not define your entire being. Focus on all the things that bring joy and positivity your way instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of your condition. Even though this may seem challenging in the beginning, it is important to let yourself feel all the emotions and once they have passed, pick yourself up again and focus on the bright future you have ahead.
The Bottom Line
There is nothing easy about living with a chronic illness, especially when you know there is no real cure out there to put the symptoms to bed forever. But as difficult as it may seem some days, there is always hope. Feeling all the emotions that come with the diagnosis and putting self-blame aside are some of the most important steps in coming to terms with your illness. Making healthy choices and surrounding yourself with loved ones are also helpful for keeping your spirits up and managing a few of the mental and physical symptoms.
Some days will be better than others but always remember that you have complete control over how this illness will affect your quality of life.