Whether you are the one who is ill or caring for someone who is ill, coping with a chronic illness for an extended time can be exhausting and lead to depression. Dealing with a negative force, long term, can make it difficult to see outside that force and depending on the illness, there may be little room for positive points in the day.
I’m not here to say, hey, snap out of it, everyone has their problems. As someone who lives with chronic illness, I know how hard it can be to keep going when you wake up feeling like garbage every day. I would imagine my husband can also share the frustration of seeing his formerly healthy spouse struggling to use a can opener, or completely exhausted after a few hours at the park with the kids. It isn’t easy being sick and it isn’t easy being the caregiver for someone who has a long-term condition.
Side Effects of Chronic Illness
There are many side effects to medication used to treat chronic conditions, from developing other health conditions to infections, headaches and more. In addition to dealing with the side effects, there are other issues that people dealing with chronic illness suffer from, such as:
- Social Isolation
The best we can do is find coping mechanisms for dealing with the following challenges:
- Cope with pain and discomfort from medical condition
- Adjust to new limitations
- Adjust to changes to your relationships
Here are my best strategies for dealing with the challenge of a long term illness.
Take Care of the Basics
- Finding the right doctor is the first step to managing a long-term illness. You will be seeing this doctor for years, regularly. I was heartbroken when my rheumatologist, who diagnosed and treated me for 5 years, left his practice. We had a similar mindset for managing my care and I trusted him. It has taken almost two years to feel that same comfort with my new rheumatologist. Building a solid relationship with your doctor can help you feel more in control of your condition.
- Cover your bases regarding a care plan. If there are things that can help your parent’s condition, do it, even if it is a time suck or they prefer not taking medication. I say this from experience. I hate having to take 2 hours out of my day for physical therapy. Yet, every time I have done it, I am better of afterwards. It always helps. Same goes for medication. I don’t like taking a lot of medication. I was taking half doses of a prescription and struggling with pain all the time. I finally bumped up to the prescribed dose and feel so much better. Sometimes we have to accept that we can’t heal ourselves and follow our doctor’s recommendations. Go ahead, try the gluten free, sugar free, dairy free diet and supplements if you think it will help, but don’t forgo recommended treatment in the process.
- Allow yourself – or your parent – the space to be angry, at least for a little while. Being sick changes everything. You never realize how important your health is until you don’t have it. It is OK to be angry or frustrated. Just don’t stay in that space forever.
Ways to Cope with Chronic Illness
Once you’ve set up a care plan that you are happy with, find ways to cope with the condition.
- Find little ways to feel better. Whatever the condition is, there are probably a few things that can be done to feel better. For me, doing stretches helps me feel better. Unfortunately, I forget this and go days without stretching, until I notice that my muscles are too tight. Are there things your parent can do to feel slightly better? Maybe stretches or their physical therapy exercises. If nothing else, try a short meditation. Studies have shown meditation to help people with chronic illness better cope with pain. If you only have a few minutes, check out this three minute meditation exercise.
- Practice distraction. There are days when no amount of medication or stretching can make you feel better. Rather than wallowing in pity, engross yourself in something that you enjoy. For me, it’s reading a book. I can lie in bed, resting my body while I read. I can lose myself in a good book and forget some of the pain.
- Find support. Whether you call a friend or family member or join a caregiver or patient support group, reaching out to others can help you cope with a chronic illness. There are support groups through your condition’s website, local hospitals or senior centers.
- Find joy. Find ways to bring bits of happiness into your life, whether happiness is sitting at the beach watching the waves or listening to your favorite music. You may not be able to do some of the big things that you enjoyed in the past, but finding little ways to be happiness can be a big help.
It isn’t easy living with chronic illness, but as I tell people when they say that they don’t know how I do it, the alternative is worse. I may live with pain and get stupid infections that require minor surgery, but I am here.