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Ten Tips for Dealing with the Disappointment of a Chronic Illness

It’s important for a patient to learn the difference between assertively asking for help from family, friends, and medical providers and aggressively demanding attention to the exclusion of the needs of others.

by Vonda J. Sines

If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic disease, you’ve already experienced a huge disappointment.  Having a condition that waxes and wanes and that’s also incurable is a shock.  Who on earth wants a lifetime of pain, medication, or behavior restricted by a health condition?  After being a patient with Crohn’s disease for decades, I’ve found that these 10 tips can help maintain a general attitude of health and wellness while dealing with the disappointments associated with a chronic condition.

Tip #1:  Get Educated

When it comes to a chronic illness, there is no such thing as an overeducated patient.  You don’t have to have medical training to understand how a disease or illness affects the human body and the potential side effects linked to various treatment options. 

Ask your doctor for any available literature and contact information for organizations associated with your condition.  For example, a very comprehensive source for Crohn’s patients is the Crohn’s Colitis Foundation of America. Check your local newspaper for meetings of patients with the same condition.  An Internet search almost always turns up some useful references.

Tip #2:  Deal With the Anger

Chronic diseases rob the patient of expectations and replace them with disappointment.  You have a right to get angry. Just don’t stay that way.

The anger might be due to a changed appearance, a limitation on activities, or a lost career.  It needs to be acknowledged before it grows like a snowball rolling down a hill.

Tip #3:  Realize You Are More than the Disease

You have a chronic condition, but you aren’t that condition.  Focusing your life on the condition instead of simply dealing with it as part of your existence can have negative consequences.

Promoting yourself as a label bearing the name of a disease or condition is sometimes a way to avoid doing something you perceive as unpleasant. 

It’s all about balance.  That means acknowledging that there’s an illness but that it’s not self-defining.  It’s about realizing that despite limitations, you maintain the human dignity with which you were born.  After all, as the saying goes, God doesn’t make junk.

Tip #4: Be Assertive

Chronic illness often means daily changes in how you feel or are able to function.  Limitations frequently lead to disappointment.                                                                  

It’s important for a patient to learn the difference between assertively asking for help from family, friends, and medical providers and aggressively demanding attention to the exclusion of the needs of others.

Tip #5:  Be Grateful

It’s hard to feel grateful when you’re in pain, confined to a wheelchair, or have lost your vision. The expense of treating a chronic condition can be crushing.

However, you will find it easier to maintain an attitude of health and wellness if you look for things for which to be grateful.  They might include the fact that you have health insurance, the friend who takes you to dialysis, or that furball who hops into your lap when you feel down.  Gratitude is usually a skill that needs to be refined.

Tip #6:  Get in Touch With Your Spirituality

Whatever your religion or spirituality, you will feel healthier if you’re in touch with your beliefs.  Spirituality isn’t just about feeling good about the universe or asking over and over for healing or relief from pain.  Part of the equation is expressing your gratitude at the blessings you experience.

Tip #7:  Make Some New Friends

Many people with a chronic illness experience a sense of well-being when they make a few friends with the same or a similar condition.  They could be friends in the flesh or cyber-buddies.  You might find them in a support group. 

Tip #8:  Nix Complaining

If you have a chronic illness, people frequently ask, “How are you?”  The truth is, they don’t really want to hear a negative answer all that often.  There is a huge difference between answering, “I’ve been cooped up in here for a week and can’t get anybody to give me a ride to the grocery” and “It feels great to be well enough to get out and about and restock my pantry.”

Everybody needs somebody who will listen to how he or she really is without being judgmental. Just remember that at times, these listeners need a break from complaints, too.

Tip #9:  Spread the Wealth

Volunteering is a wonderful way to develop a feeling of health and wellness even when someone is sick.  Regardless of the assignment, it helps you avoid wallowing in your circumstances.  The act of helping another person somehow mystically overcomes personal disappointments and setbacks.

Tip #10:  Develop a Positive Attitude

When you’ve lost the physical ability to do something you once treasured, learning to validate your self-worth is essential. The best way to do this is within the framework of a positive attitude.

How do you get one when you’re ill?  You take steps to create the right environment.  That could involve prayer, meditation, listening to calming music, or curling up with some oversized pillows in your favorite color.  Surrounding yourself with individuals who are positive is another.

For many people, the worst aspect of a chronic illness involves the frequent disappointments they experience.  Following even some of these tips can help you maintain and overall feeling of health and wellness despite your physical limitations.

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©2011, 2012 All Rights Reserved Teresa DePoy

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