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Coping with Chronic Illness

Grief and loss over the healthy self is a part of adaptation to living with chronic illness. Appreciate that family members grieve differently by nature of personality and gender; don't interpret not talking or being busy as not caring. Give yourself permission to be angry.for a while.

Chronic illness outcomes turn out differently for everyone. The disease is helped or hindered by fate, personality, experiences, attitude and finally behavior. We must concentrate on controlling the parts we can, rather than becoming lost in a worst-case scenario. Individuals are not statistics.

Too much fear can paralyze us from acting in our best interest. Excessive anxiety can also result in depression, anger and impatience. The nature of compulsive worry-, which has no helpful outcomes, in fact some hurtful ones- is to take away the contentment of your life now in anticipation of what "could" happen (and may likely not happen.) A delicate balance of "just enough" worry can bring good things- reevaluating, remotivating, planning and discipline-, all destined to improve health. Please consider getting professional help, a preventive treatment, if the person or family members with chronic illness are suffering beyond a normal grief response.

Prevention matters. Complications are often reduced, eliminated, reversed or halted with proactive care.

Psychological adjustments to health problems are more arduous than the behavior changes.and they often have to come first or be revisited. A positive mental attitude is not only good for you because you feel better, but because you do better. Attitude has much to do with the way you handle your health; we must allow for imperfection and promote resiliency. We can concentrate on the positive strengths, interests, and traits that we do have to buffer our disappointments. This positive use of personal psychology, "learned optimism" can influence behavior as well as the immune system. My suggestion is that individuals take the position emotionally that they will be healthy when attending to their care, even imperfectly, and work on becoming resilient to setbacks. Make sure anxiety or your mood is not dictating a lack of constructive care. Strive for normalcy within limitations.

Families must adjust to chronic illness as well. The temptation for parents or spouses, consumed by fear, is to go through cycles of being over controlling or withdrawing. While this works in the present, it may lead to depression and rebellion in the person with chronic illness. How we decide to take care of ourselves is always evolving and hopefully within a context of an entire medical team. Find support in the form of friends and family, reading and talking, using a good medical team regularly, and matching you with other families who have the same illness to cope with.

Bad things happen to good people; figure out the meaning of illness.

Cope with attitude, humor, exercise, nutrition, spirituality, socialization, and consider therapy and medication for mood.

Let me end with a story about a 50-year-old patient, "Simon" who had diabetes since the age of 10. When I met him, 20 years ago. Simon had spent 40 years living with diabetes. He was completely healthy and entirely miserable for most of his life. He came into the office for what he thought, finally, was a complication of diabetes-sexual dysfunction. After a thorough medical and psychological evaluation, Simon learned that his impotence was psychological. The news was a relief to him and a great frustration.

When Simon was 18, thinking of college, but believing he probably wouldn't live a long life because of his diabetes, he said, "Why bother?" When Simon got married, and the ordinary strains of marriage were being worked out, using the same pessimistic philosophy, he said, "Why Bother" When Simon's business began to fail, and he should have borrowed money to revitalize and save it, he said, " Why bother?"

The terrible irony was that now Simon was bothered. He was depressed and angry that none of the complications that he so feared and planned for had happened. The fear of them had changed his goals and pleasures. While waiting for complications to happen, he had not put his energy into making his life satisfying, happy, and healthy.

(Taken from my book, When Diabetes Hits Home)

The lessons of 9-11 have made the whole world have to think about living with chronic stress- something people with chronic illness have already had to figure out by themselves. People are trying to make "healthy denial and healthy practices" as well as improved priorities our mantra. Choose optimism, not an easy job. Clinically proven, it will prolong and improve the quality of your life.

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