Coping with chronic illness: step-by-step

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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.

Denial

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.

Education

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.

Advocacy

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.

Acceptance

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.

DISCLAIMER
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.

4 thoughts on “Coping with chronic illness: step-by-step

  1. I am right there with you Kathleen! As a medical professional I felt if I didn’t accept the diagnosis and worked harder it would nt be true. I should know better but I didn’t and consequently pay the price. Auto immune disease have no cut and dried answers.

    1. I hope things are going as well as possible for you now. I’ve admired your photographs so it looks like you are getting out to do what you love. It’s all a process isn’t it?

  2. Thank you Kathleen! I love taking pics more than breathing! I go to Mayo later this month for some answers. I am like a Timex! I take a licking and keep on ticking:-) It is definitely a process.

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