Chronic Illness - What To Do When You Know What "It" Is

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

When you first find out about your diagnosis that's never going to go away, finding cure for the disease is unlikely to be on your mind. Best you can do is to focus on learning to live with chronic illness and fight with the thoughts of dying from it. Such a response is normal!

In this article we will identify thoughts and emotions that go with the first time diagnosis and offer tips for living with what is hard to live with.

You must learn to deal with the "hydra headed" monster called anxiety. Here are some questions you will be faced with: "Would I have other symptoms in addition to what I already have?" How would I look some years from now; fat and ugly?" Would this lead to even more serious illness?" "What if I get the wrong treatment or the side-effect are terrible?" "What about pain?" "Will I become invalid and dependent on others?"

Anxiety, fear or depression may be the result of the concerns related to burdening others, losing friends, losing partner (or not finding one!), losing the love of the loved ones, loss of sexual function and desire and missing out on the joys of life especially the fun and activities with the family.

The worst fear is the fear of loss of control over one's life. It is particularly hard if you are one of those who have worked hard to gain and maintain control over their lives and of such unspeakable topics as disability and death.

Are you concerned with how others would react to you? Questions such as the following become persistent and even intrusive: "Do I look alright?" "Would people think I am really sick or would they dismiss or undermine the seriousness of my symptoms?" "Would my doctor take me seriously?" " Would others tolerate me and accommodate me?"

Guilt and shame regarding what you should've and shouldn't have done to bring this chronic illness to yourself, envy of the able bodied accompanying the feelings of self-pity, powerlessness and hopelessness are natural and inescapable.

What can set you apart from others and aid you in coping with your chronic illness is how well you work through these feelings. It is futile to try to block such thoughts and feelings or to promise yourself that you won't think or feel them.

You have to look at those feelings and thoughts right in their eyes, accept them as natural and hug and hold on to what is still intact and precious about you and around you.

A lot of people isolate themselves because of lowered self-esteem and negative expectations and anticipations of others' reactions and then wonder why they are on one island and everybody else is on the others. Don't hesitate to ask for help when appropriate. But, don't come across like you are demanding of or confronting the people you think should be more responsive and supportive.

Beware of unrealistic expectations from self and others. At the same time, don't ignore your own needs and don't focus on your inabilities and shortcomings. Don't obsess over your chronic illness.

When you commit yourself to handle whatever befalls you can empower you enormously and save you from some of the future negative outcomes. For example, when you commit yourself to cope with possible desertion by friends and relatives, you'll come across as someone who is calm and confident. Others may become fascinated and inspired by you and may like to hang around you even more.

Let's take the opposite example. Suppose you absolutely dread the possibility of friends and relatives abandoning you. You're either going to cling to them or act as if you are already resigned to the fact that they will abandon you sooner or later. Chances are that others might feel awkward or defensive around you. Thus the fear of desertion and negative anticipation might just prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Say, your friends and relatives really leave you in spite of you being so positive and confident No problem! When you commit to deal with whatever may come your way, you will make new friends. The new friends may be different. They may be more like you!

Self-esteem is a likely casualty of chronically severe illness. Self-esteem doesn't have to be compromised because of a physical dysfunction or even disability. You have value and worth apart from your body. You can admire yourself for how well you cope with the challenges of your chronic illness. You can feel good about your past accomplishments too.

You are a worthy person regardless of your disability. There is no reason you should stop loving yourself now.

If someone tries to put you down or doesn't respect you, be assertive in communicating your expectations. If they don't change their ways, have no hesitation in withdrawing from them.

Speak in a strong voice if physically possible. Make eye contact and keep your head held high when you talk. Take your time. You will inspire others and give them hope.

Return to Chronic Illness Coping
Return to Self Help 

Copyright 2004, Mind Publications 
Posted September 2004


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