What is a Chronic Illness?
Chronic Illness (Chronic Disease) is defined as an illness that lasts for more than three months. When battling a chronic illness, you face pain and exhaustion mixed with the possibility of not being able to continue with your daily functions. You may not be able to work which leads to financial and emotional stress and anxiety. Children facing a chronic illness are likely to not understand their condition and not understand the implications. It's not uncommon for people who have chronic illnesses to develop anxiety and depressive disorders as a result of their diagnosis.
Chronic Illness encompasses a large variety of disorders, including:
- Alzheimer's Disease
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Crohn's Disease
- GERD (acid reflux)
- Heart Disease
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Lyme Disease
- Parkinson Disease
- And many others.
Life With Chronic Illnesses:
One of the most challenging parts of life with a chronic illness is the fear and uncertainty associated with a diagnosis of an illness not cured by modern science. Some people have chronic illnesses that run in cycles of illness ("relapse") punctuated by cycles in which the illness is not present in daily life ("remission"). Even in these types of illnesses, people face fears and anxiety during relatively normal periods of time as they are unsure when the illness will become symptomatic once again.
A diagnosis of chronic illnesses can lead to many unwanted, unwelcome lifestyle changes in order to cope with the limitations of chronic diseases. Some people may have to give up work or school to focus upon their recovery while others are unable to participate in once-loved activities. The loss of these lifestyle changes can lead to much emotional turmoil for the affected person and his or her family.
Emotional Impact of Chronic Illnesses:
Over time, the stresses and limitations placed on a person with chronic illnesses may test the emotional energy an affected individual has. Worsening symptoms of a lack of symptom improvement can trigger intensely negative feelings and increase feelings of despair, sadness, and anxiety. Mental disorders such as depression are common among those who have chronic illnesses and can actually complicate treatments of medical illnesses, especially as many physicians ignore the symptoms of depressive disorders and anxiety. It's vital that you or your loved one take all symptoms of depression seriously - the sooner depression is treated, the better the outcome for both the physical and mental illness.
It's important to be realistic when considering the physical and emotional challenges of a chronic illness. It's important to approach treatment of physical illness and mental health disorders with a positive, yet realistic approach. It can feel daunting, if not impossible to try to adapt to the limitations of a physical illness, but it can be done.
Try visiting a psychologist who can help teach you to build necessary emotional resilience required for successful navigation of chronic illness. A combined approach to care including your doctor, specialists, and your psychologist can help teach you appropriate coping strategies that will support your treatment program and also help you lead a happy, fulfilled life.
Here are some other suggestions for coping with chronic illness:
Keep connected: Create and maintain quality interpersonal relationships with loved ones, family and friends. Check local hospitals for organizations that offer support groups for people struggling with similar challenges. Groups can both help your own well-being as well as provide opportunities for you to help others.
Make you a priority: Don't allow worries, anxiety, or stress over your chronic illness impede your ability to eat a balanced diet, getting enough exercise, having fun, and making certain to get a full night of sleep.
Daily routines are a must: Even if you're not working, it's important to implement and follow a routine of work, errands, household chores, and enjoyable activities as much as you can. Daily routines offer a feeling of stability and usefulness during the chaos and uncertainty of your illness.
Additional Chronic Illness Resources:
There are many online resources for every chronic illness you can imagine. Some are specialized and some are very general. A few really good places to go for more information are as follows:
Long Distance Hugs - Offers care packages and information about life as a spouse of a person with chronic illnesses.
Transcending Chronic Illness - A great site that provides ideas and strategies to help you live within your physical limitations.