Getting sick is inevitable. Many of us will catch a cold from time to time. Sometimes we will experience something more serious such as a sinus infection or strep throat requiring medical attention.
And then there are those of us living with long-term chronic illness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, six in every 10 adults in the United States have a chronic disease. Four in 10 have two illnesses or more. Many more people (called long-haulers) have joined the ranks of those living with chronic illness after becoming infected with COVID-19.
Living with a chronic illness is difficult. It can rob you of your joy and make you feel alone – in a world where good health is synonymous with living a full, happy life.
Whether you have been living with a chronic illness for years or just got diagnosed, here are some tips to help navigate the emotional and psychological terrain.
Move forward, not back. For most people living with a chronic illness, there is no going back to your “old life.” Instead, it is about moving forward and constructing a new “normal.” Learn to control what you can and let go of the rest.
Reframe your thoughts. Instead of telling yourself what you cannot do, tell yourself what you can do. If you do not have the energy to make it to the birthday party, ask your friends and family to set up a Zoom call or do Facetime so you can still participate in the celebration.
Let go of shame and regret. Feelings of shame and regret are emotionally and psychologically debilitating. Shame will make you feel small and want to retreat from the world, and regret can lead to a sense of hopelessness.
Detach yourself from your illness. When a painful thought crosses your mind such as that “you will always be suffering and that living life is not worth it,” acknowledge the thought and then place it visually on a lily pad going downstream or a passing cloud to create distance from the painful thought.
Show yourself compassion. Extend the same kindness to yourself that you would extend to a friend dealing with a chronic illness. Remind yourself of all your positive traits, talents, and accomplishments. Use positive language when referring to yourself and confront your inner critic.
Find the right support. Having compassionate family members and friends who “get it” and who you can talk with is crucial. But go beyond that. Find a support group. Seek out a mental health professional who specializes in working with people with chronic illness. And do not be afraid to change doctors when you feel you are not being taken seriously.
Learn to make lifestyle changes. If you need to take a nap or two every day – then do it, without exception. Find work that can adapt to your physical and emotional needs. Eat differently. Exercise more or less – whatever makes sense for you. Set boundaries. The idea is to take charge of your own well-being to meet your specific needs.
Living with a chronic illness is difficult, but it does not need to define you. There is hope. Reach out today to make an appointment at Turning Point Mental Health Center to get the help you need.