Guest Post by Kati Morton, LMFT
Chronic illness is a long lasting condition that cannot be cured, and it affects over 125 million Americans. They estimate that this number will continue to grow each and every year as our health crisis continues to get worse. Having a chronic illness can be debilitating enough; dealing with all of the doctor appointments and changes to our lifestyle and expectations, not to mention the effects it can have on our mental health.
Those who suffer from chronic illness are more likely to also suffer with depression, and sadly it is often overlooked. Many physicians don’t always ask about our emotional well-being, or brush off our struggles as part of our illness. Most of my clients don’t find their way into my office until they have been struggling with anger and depression for over a year. It is my belief that this “brush off” is what leads to our impulse to act like we are happy and feeling okay, and causes us to put off getting the help we need and deserve. Telling friends and family that we are “fine” and not to worry because, if our doctor doesn’t think something’s wrong, why should we?
We definitely should listen to our mind and body, and heed its warnings. If we find ourselves struggling to enjoy the things we used to, having hopeless thoughts about our future, and not wanting to get together with our loved ones, we should reach out for more help. The sooner we start talking about all that we are feeling; the anger, grief and loss in an open and honest manner the better.
Many people with chronic illness not only feel hopeless and sad about their diagnosis, but also angry. Angry that this happened to them, and that they have to rethink their expectations for life. All of the emotions you are feeling are normal, and warranted, but don’t keep them bottled up. If we don’t find a therapist or join a chronic illness support group this anger and depression can find it’s way into our interpersonal relationships. We may lash out at our loved ones or not want to spend as much time with them, and those actions can damage our most important relationships. In my experience, those closest to us are feeling much of what we are, and once we start talking honestly about all of our worries and upsets, we can finally begin accepting what has happened and working together to re-envision our future together.
Along with individual and group therapy there are some things that we can do to cope with our chronic illness.
- Be actively involved in your treatment. This means taking time to write down any and all questions you have about your illness or treatment and bringing that list in with you when you see your doctor. Getting all the information can help us feel more empowered and in charge of our treatment.
- Take control of your life. Receiving a chronic illness diagnosis can leave us feeling helpless and hopeless, but there are some things we can do to gain back some of that control. We can choose to eat healthfully, take our medications as instructed by our doctor, and spend time with people who are supportive and loving.
- Focus on the positive. It can be so easy to just focus on our diagnosis and what it has taken away from us, but what about all that we will have left? Take some time each morning to write down the things you are thankful for and what you are looking forward to. Doing this can help us not only accept our diagnosis, but also find enjoyment in our life again.
Dealing with a chronic illness is not an easy task, and it can require more strength from us than we even knew we had. However, I do believe that we have the ability to face it head on and overcome. Every challenge seems overwhelming at the beginning, but if we focus on one moment and one task at a time, we can find ourselves again and take back our life.
Christina specializes in healthcare digital community building and communications. She is a connector and has a passion for supporting those dealing with the impacts of disease.
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