In Coping with Chronic Illness, by H. Norman Wright and Lynn Ellis, chronic illness is compared to having a career. “You can do poorly or well at it. Doing well doesn’t mean being cured; instead, it refers to your ability to cope and make needed adjustments.”
Until about ten months ago, I considered myself somewhat of an expert at coping with chronic illness. I had accepted my limitations, found ways to fulfill most of my goals, and was basically content with my life. And I’d walked this way for nearly forty years.
Then suddenly, things changed. My pain management doctor did an epidural steroid injection in my cervical spine, which was supposed to reduce my neck and shoulder pain. But instead of the pain improving, it became worse. And for some reason that none of my doctors have identified, my overall condition was also much worse. I was left dealing with constant pain and a whole new set of limitations.
This is my personal story, but I suspect many of you have similar stories. Chronic illnesses are seldom static. Once we learn to live with one level of debilitation, things often change and there are new problems to deal with. Knowing how to cope with today’s problems is essential.
What exactly is chronic illness?
According to the definition of the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, a chronic disease is one the lasts for 3 months or more, that generally cannot be prevented by vaccines or cured by medication. Having a chronic illness often means living with “invisible” symptoms that no one but you sees, feels, or is aware of.
How can I cope with my chronic illness or illnesses?
It is possible to be realistic about the losses in our lives, and still live in joy, peace, hope, and awareness of the many ways the Lord is blessing us. We are His creation, made with a purpose we are called and empowered to fulfill. I believe this understanding is the key to coping with whatever chronic illness or illnesses God has allowed in your life.
Specific ideas for coping with chronic illness:
- Don’t try to bear the weight of chronic illness on your own. Find someone you can confide in. Participating in a support group such as God-Living Girls is a great way to do this.
- Seek medical help, and be willing to listen to your doctors. If you question a diagnosis, get a second opinion. Learn enough about your diagnoses to ask questions.
- Spend time daily talking with God in prayer and reading and meditating on His Word.
- Work to develop a positive attitude and a grateful heart, in spite of how you’re feeling. Open your eyes to all the blessings in your life, and thank God daily for them.
- Hold onto the truth that God has not abandoned you. He is at your side, ready to strengthen you to successfully face anything that happens today. Allow His perfect love to drive out your fear.
- Set realistic goals, taking your current physical and mental limitations in mind. Don’t expect to do everything you did prior to becoming ill. Don’t expect perfection. Be alert to times when you need to rest.
- Be willing to ask for help, when it’s truly needed.
- Look for new creative outlets that give you pleasure, such as writing, art, crafts, and music.
- Develop an eternal perspective. Remember, your years on the current earth are few when compared with eternity, so focus on living to please God.
- Finally, remember that YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR DISEASE OR DIAGNOSIS. You are God’s beloved daughter, created to fulfill His purpose for your life.
Chronic illness has changed our lives. We cannot do many of the things we used to be able to do. But this doesn’t have to keep us from walking in joy, being at rest in our current circumstances, or reaching out in love to others who are in need. We each are still a whole person, a person of value, unique and greatly loved by God. Our daily symptoms and physical limitations do not change this. The above items aren’t rules to follow, in order to gain God’s approval. You already have that. And these aren’t the only things that will help you cope with chronic illness. Perhaps you have your own word of advice on how to cope with chronic illness that has really helped you. If so, we’d love for you to share it with us in the comments.