Fifty percent of the U.S. population have an unyielding medical condition that clashes with the demands of daily life. Some diseases are visible; some are not. But all are equally draining and disruptive.
The number one cause of death, disability and ever increasing health spending in America: chronic disease.
A chronic disease does not discriminate. Anyone of any age, race, or gender can fall into the grips of a chronic disease such as:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Cardiac failure
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Coronary artery disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Dementia (Alzheimer’s, Lewy Bodies)
- Diabetes insipidus
- Diabetes mellitus (type 1 and type 2)
- Dysrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Ulcerative colitis
Chronic disease can require a drastic change in a person’s lifestyle. The disease can interfere with job status, leisure activities, social outings, and a person’s independence.
Then there is the need to deal with the illness itself. Acceptance. Adjustment. Facing the reality of having a chronic illness, the demands of the change in lifestyle it requires, plus the treatment and side effects.
When I was told I had Parkinson’s Disease, I cried for a week. My thoughts were spinning. I felt sad, worried, alone, and scared. What did this mean for my life? Why did this happen? I began thinking of all the things potentially I could miss with my husband and family. I envisioned not being around to see my three grandchildren grow up.
Many mental health clinicians use the stages in the Kubler-Ross model when helping people deal with the losses associated with chronic illness. The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
But I experienced other emotions, too, in a range of intensity. Each day is different and brings a variety of emotions and challenges.
Chronic debilitating pain—the kind that lasts longer than three months—is the most widespread affliction of our time. It besets approximately 100 million adults in the U.S.—more than diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined—and can upend sufferers’ sleep, mood, appetite, relationships, and ability to function.—Ginny Graves, A World of Hurt, April 2016 Oprah Magazine
There’s an on-going battle for a person with chronic illness. The battle to remain significant to other people and in one’s own life. To be able to contribute to the lives of other people. To still have a purpose. A battle to preserve one’s own worth and usefulness despite a chronic illness. A fight against a loss of a valued level of functioning in the world.
Individuals diagnosed with a chronic illness also are more likely to be depressed, to feel angry about their illness, and often feel a sense of loss of who they used to be.
I have found the following tips that can make life easier:
♥ Be an advocate for your own health. Learn everything you can about your illness. Be informed.
♥ Seek second opinions.
♥ If a medication doesn’t seem to be working or is causing unpleasant side effects, speak up. Call your doctor.
♥ Seek support groups, and go! Bring a family member with you. Call your local hospital for a list in your area.
♥ Give yourself permission to feel whatever emotions come your way. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself with love. Find things that make you happy. Have you ever heard someone with Parkinson’s play piano? Well, it isn’t pretty but it make me happy.
In Psychology Today the words of Julian Seifter, M.D. really brings this home in his piece No Fault Illness:
The truth is, no health policy or medical Ten Commandments will ever entirely tame the randomness of the universe or control all the variables affecting people’s health. Simply being alive means being vulnerable to time, chance, illness, death. Not everything that happens to us is a measure of character or will; sometimes an event is just a matter of luck. Tolerance and acceptance are attitudes that help us face whatever chance throws our way. It’s only by acknowledging what lies beyond our control that we can fully embrace the lives we have, for the time we have them.
Think about it. Tell me your story.