Adapting to Chronic Illness

It's a process of getting used to the new person you have become. 

Acknowledging that you may suffer from chronic pain or be physically or mentally disabled for the long term can be a tough reality to accept. Your life and lifestyle have changed and it can take some time to adjust to your new circumstance. Thousands of people each day are informed that their ill health may be a chronic condition. This means that although the disease may be treatable it is not curable. A chronic illness is one that is not likely to go away. 

It may feel as though all the bits and pieces of your life have been thrown into a jar, shaken up, and then dumped back out for you to put back together again. It's okay. Once you get it all sorted out you will be just fine. The adjustment period will help you to understand your new needs, capabilities, and goals. Being disabled you will still have interests and priorities that you set out for yourself but now they just may be a little different from what your previous ambitions were.

You may experience a period of grief as you adjust. A fellow in one of my support groups described this situation ideally; he said that things are not all that bad once you get used to the new you, and this turned out to be very true. Frustration, anger, and grief are all very normal emotions people experience when we suffer a loss. Allow yourself time to grieve for what you have lost but do not stay focused on what you no longer have. You may be a bit different now but you are still you. It is important to let go of the past and allow yourself to become who you now are.

You may discover that you have a whole new set of opportunities and boundaries to discover. It's a little like being a child discovering and learning what you may or may not be able to accomplish. It's okay. You'll get used to it. Where illness is concerned knowledge is indeed power. Work with your physician to help design the best therapy program for you. There are many alternative treatments that you may be able to include in alongside your physician prescribed care.

Research your disorder / disability and discover everything that you are able to as this will allow you to knowledgeably participate in your therapy program. You can only do this if you are aware of the medical options available to you and are able to decide which treatments are the most likely to benefit your unique illness. 
There are many areas of daily living to adapt to. 1) There may be a job loss or inability to control your income level as you had been in the past. 2) An inability to participate in hobbies, sports, or family activities that you were previously able to. 3) A loss of independence or having to adjust to relying on others for aide.

Cognitive dysfunction.
Fatigue issues.
A feeling of isolation.
Additional medical costs.

Being told that you will most likely suffer from a disability for the remainder of your life can be a difficult diagnosis for any individual to accept. Chronic illness is not the end though. It is merely a new beginning.You are still you just presented in a little different version. Life continues onward and even with disability there is an amazing quality of life possible. There are positive ways to move forward after the diagnosis.

Often it can be the feeling of losing control that makes living with a disability or chronic illness difficult. If the disability affects physical or emotional functioning then it can mean an inability to perform certain tasks that were previously possible. Generally our interests do not change so it is simply a matter of discovering a new manner for us to participate in these activities.

It can take time to adapt to the new you. Test your boundaries. Discover your capabilities within each area of your lifestyle. Push yourself to the maximum but don’t overdo it. Allow yourself to succeed but also allow yourself to fail as this is how you will discover your limits. When you discover your limitations accept them, they are a part of who you now are.

Adapt your skills or discover new ways to enhance your quality of life. If you were previously very athletic and now find yourself physically restricted, adapt to what you are now capable of doing. Use the strong areas of your body to keep you participating in the sports that you love, if necessary coach programs rather than participate. Stay active and stay involved. Remain a fan for the things you enjoy.

You may not be able to do the same things that you were able to in the past but the new person that you have become has his or her own unique set of skills. Allow these to be discovered and developed. Understanding, and accepting the new person that you have become, will help you to gain control of living with a chronic illness.

Be confident within yourself. Be proud of your accomplishments. There will be setbacks but this is a natural fact of life, simply accept the baby steps forward and keep pushing onward. Learning to adapt to a disability or chronic illness can take time. Like a child discovers through a series of trial and error his or her abilities and areas of interest so will you discover yours. Life is simply a series of experiences and phases. We learn to adapt to each of these changing environments as we encounter them.

You are a child, a teenager, an adult, and then a senior citizen. You adapt to these changes because you just naturally expect these phases in your life to occur. A chronic illness can be a little more difficult to adapt to because you do not expect it yet chronic illness is just one of the unique phases of life that a person may be required to adapt to.

There are ways to move forward from this diagnosis. Baby steps helped you adapt and learn as you grew from a child to an adult and they will also help you gain confidence in this new phase of your life. You are still you just a little different than you used to be.

Wear a smile it will release a feel good chemical in your brain known as an endorphin. Endorphins are a natural feel good chemical message that will flow from your brain down your spine and spread through your body relieving physical and emotional pain. It's been said that it is as powerful as the drug morphine and you release this endorphin reaction when you smile, laugh, exercise, or participate in other pleasurable activity.

TRY IT: Most people think that when you are happy you smile but this process can also work in reverse. Good news is that your body cannot recognize a fake smile or laugh from a real one which means that simply pretending to be happy can make you feel happier. So put a smile on your face. It is good for you and will indeed make you feel better. Laughter is powerful medicine.

Living with a chronic autoimmune disorder changed how I live my life. I was diagnosed with a little something known as Jo1 antibodies at age 26. This chronic immune system based illness is rare and as such also commonly misunderstood. When I was first diagnosed I thought my life was over. I was alone, afraid, and thought that I would now die alone. How wrong I was. It is now over 30 years since my diagnosis and I am still here loving my life. I am also very curious as to why and how the immune system can work for or against us. About 4 years after I became ill I was lucky enough to experience a 5 year period of remission. Then the illness returned to remain with me. The reason why that remission occurred has intrigued me ever since.

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