Coping with chronic illness: step-by-step


I have a chronic illness. This has led me to become sensitized to how people cope and how they may define recovery given the nature of a chronic illness. Anyone could probably tell you that there are stages that you go through. These have been widely written about. As is often the case we all have our own way of dealing with things; see if you can relate to what I have found to be true for me. These stages are not mutually exclusive; we can be participating in more than one at a time and can keep recycling through. I try to keep in mind that it is important not to judge myself or others based upon how each of us is uniquely coping with our illness.


If you have enjoyed good health throughout your life having less than optimal health can be quite challenging. My first response to my illness was to ignore my symptoms and try harder and harder to do the work that I had always felt I was called to do in my professional career. I ignored the warning signs, increased my stress level and, consequently, my symptoms became much worse.

Seeking expert guidance

As my symptoms worsened I went to my primary doctor and many specialists to try to find out what was wrong with me. I turned myself over to the medical profession for my care. I believed in the medical profession. I got some answers but the puzzle of my illness continued. Things remained unexplained even after I received a diagnosis. When I attempted to express my concerns I felt that I was dismissed and misunderstood. I became resentful and angry.


I began to feel a little better but not enough to continue on with all the demands in my personal and work lives. I was dissatisfied with this state of affairs. I began to seek out answers on my own. I read academic journal articles, alternative health blogs and participated in forums. This was the beginning of taking back more control of my health and feeling empowered to move forward in an informed and collaborative way with a physician who had a deeper understanding of the illness I was diagnosed with.


I experienced a great deal of frustration with the medical system throughout this time. Only at this point, however, did I have enough energy to look outside of my own needs to see how other people with my diagnosis were also struggling to find answers and proper care. I started a support group with others whom I had met on forums. I got involved in efforts to promote awareness on the local level. I went to the state capital to advocate for the needs of our community.


This has taken several years! I still have many of the same symptoms. I have seen some improvements and am hopeful about the future. My attitude has changed; I am engaged in the process of healing and am not chasing a cure. My appreciation for the things I DO have in my life is no longer limited. This brings me happiness.

And again

I am an imperfect human. I can go back to feeling victimized, angry and resentful. This does happen sometimes. My job is to use the tools I have developed to manage my illness AND my perspective.

This information is for educational purposes only and should not in any way be considered a substitute for professional help. If you feel that you need immediate assistance please call your local psychiatric emergency services.

Some random thoughts regarding Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Untimely exit
Untimely exit

Since PSH’s death I’ve been thinking about all the people I have known that followed a similar path. People who had years of abstinence from drugs and alcohol and returned to using. People who then sometimes accidentally died from an overdose.

Some of these random thoughts led me to write here about what I know from my experience and to look into some more recent findings that may or may not be relevant to PSH but are relevant to the drug culture in the United States as it stands today. Add the following factors up and you have our present predicament.

1. A path from pain killers to heroin?

In the media there are reports that Hoffman had been using pain medications prior to his use of heroin. A recent report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) notes that prior non medical use of prescription pain killers increased the likelihood of people initiating heroin use 19 times in the age group from 12-49.*

2. The new heroin: too much of a bad thing

In case you haven’t been up on the news regarding heroin, it is more potent and in greater supply than ever before. According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s System to Retrieve Information from Drug Evidence (STRIDE) between 1992 and 2007 (the last year that data was publicly available) the purity of heroin increased by 60% and the price decreased by 81%. (Similar trends can also be found for cannabis and cocaine.) Essentially you can get better heroin for less money. Word on the street is that a bag of heroin that was once $20 is now $10. For PSH cost was not an issue but purity may well have been.

3. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Several prescription drugs were also found in PSH’s apartment. Several drugs in combination with heroin might have contributed to his death. Polydrug intoxication can become lethal when two or more drugs in combination have a greater effect than each would have had if used alone.

4. Alone and using again

And then there is the prospect of the person using alone, isolated from those he or she loves. Where does the impulse to use take over in the face of losing all that one has in life- home, children, partner, successful career, friends? Heroin is not a drug that is recreational. It is a drug of annihilation; the pleasure is in a total escape from the pain of existence. It is fueled by shame. It feels better to be alone when you are ashamed of what you are doing. It also makes it harder to find you in time if you get in trouble with more potent heroin.

As a result

Being at home alone and using a drug of unknown potency possibly with other drugs and alcohol can be a lethal combination. Unfortunately this was the result for Phillip Seymour Hoffman and for all the other not-so-famous people who are dying in similar ways every day.

It doesn’t have to be this way…..

*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Statistics and Quality Data Review. (2013, August). Associations of Non-Medical Pain Reliever Use and Initiation of Heroin Use in the United States. Retrieved from