Chronic illness can uproot life as you know it. Every day brings new challenges as you learn how to adapt to your new way of living. Understanding how to deal with chronic illness can help to reduce overwhelm so you can live a quality life.
This article provides tips for living with chronic illness when it results in physical, mental, relational, occupational and financial limitations.
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How to deal with chronic Illness when it results in physical limitations
If you’re living with a chronic illness, chances are you probably have physical limitations of some kind.
Whether those limitations impact your diet, mobility or activities you can participate in will depend on your symptoms.
Common symptoms of chronic illness may include:
- Pain including bone pain, joint pain and nerve pain
- Limited mobility
- Brain fog
- Feeling unwell like you have the flu
These and other symptoms can make life difficult. Simple daily tasks like self-care, cooking and housekeeping can pose a major challenge. This could interfere with your job, relationships, social life and overall contentment.
Even when they’re feeling well, spoonies often find themselves having to make difficult decisions. Do you clean your home? Do you get together with friends? Or do you just stay home and enjoy a few moments of feeling like your old self?
Here are some suggestions for dealing with the physical limitations of your illness.
Tips for living with physical limitations due to chronic illness:
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family and friends.
- Give yourself grace and time to do as much as you’re able, at your own pace.
- Finding an empathetic medical provider to help manage your symptoms is important. The last thing you need is a doctor who downplays your symptoms.
- Manage symptoms with physical therapy when appropriate. Consult with your healthcare provider.
- Make use of assistive devices like canes and walkers if needed.
- Consider adaptive furniture such as beds and chairs made to suit your special needs.
- Make use of gadgets to assist with daily activities like a rice cooker or a vegetable chopper.
- Keep items you use frequently at a comfortable distance and reach.
- Batch cook whenever possible. Consider meal delivery services that offer nutritional meals delivered straight to your home.
- If it’s within your means, budget money to have someone clean your home periodically. Even if it’s to do a massive cleaning once a month, or even once a quarter.
How to deal with chronic illness from a mental/emotional perspective
Chronic illness can affect your mental and emotional health in many ways. The state of feeling unwell on a continual basis is like a constant nagging that doesn’t go away. With it comes feelings of fear and anxiety.
Many people fear their symptoms will worsen over time. It’s like having a ticking time bomb inside of you. This causes people to worry about their future.
You may feel sadness over the loss of your former self. You may feel like no one understands, which brings on feelings of isolation.
Constant pain has been linked with depression.
You may feel overwhelmed by having to balance multiple doctors appointments, tests, and treatments.
You may be struggling trying to juggle other responsibilities like raising children and maintaining a home.
You may have had to endure long years without a diagnosis. Some of you are still fighting to understand the cause of all your symptoms.
Chronic illness can impact your identity and sense of self, as you struggle to adapt to your new self. Other common feelings include:
- fear of the unknown
- feeling erratic from medications like steroids
- fear of new symptoms
Tips for dealing with chronic illness when it affects you mentally and emotionally
The key to dealing with chronic illness from a mental and emotional perspective is seeking healthy outlets. These outlets will help you vent, receive support and refocus your attention when necessary.
- Online or in-person support groups. Support groups aren’t just good from a mental perspective. They can guide you in your search for answers, doctors and symptom relief.
- Journaling about your feelings and experiences helps to release the emotions, if only temporarily.
- Spending time with friends can help keep you grounded. Schedule times to hang out in advance and put it on your calendar.
- Professional therapy may help you process your feelings. They can also provide you with ways of coping with your illness.
- Moderate exercise, as recommended by your physician, can help relieve stress. Exercise also aids with the release of endorphins. These natural chemicals can help relieve pain and improve mood.
- Taking up a hobby can help get your mind off of yourself and your illness.
Many of these outlets and more are discussed in my article on self care.
How to deal with chronic illness when it impacts personal relationships
Chronic illness changes you. You may not be the same person you were at the beginning of your relationship.
You may have once been carefree, with the whole world seemingly within reach. Chronic illness forces you to consider your mortality. You see the world through a different lens now, one clouded by your illness.
You may feel robbed of your joy and of your ability to dream.
You are not the only one affected by this inward shift. Outwardly you may become more serious. You may not laugh or smile as much. You may appear sad and distant.
Symptoms like chronic pain, fatigue, stomach disturbances and other symptoms are impossible to predict.
Times when you feel well enough to socialize may be few and far in between.
People may stop asking you to go out. Or you may not feel well enough to go out with others. As a result you become isolated. Loneliness and depression can develop.
Others may look at you differently. They may see you as more fragile. They may not understand your symptoms, particularly with invisible illness.
As a result, people who live with invisible illnesses often feel misunderstood. Sadly, even by the people closest to them.
Because of your symptoms, you may be forced to rely heavily on others to accomplish basic daily activities. Others can become resentful as a result. You may resent the way others are treating you.
You may fear:
- Being a burden to family.
- Having an illness no one believes or understands.
- Being called lazy.
- Being treated like a hypochondriac by family or healthcare providers. The later is known as medical gaslighting.
Coping with chronic illness that impacts your relationships
Some relationships are unable to withstand the stress brought on by chronic illness. Broken relationships may result.
- No matter how you may feel, you are not your illness.
- Remember, we’re all human. It took you time to accept your new life with chronic illness. You may still be grieving the loss of your former self. Others may need time to adapt to the limitations imposed by your illness.
- Relationship counseling may be necessary to work through resentment on both sides.
- Communication is important now more than ever before. Both sides of the relationship need to feel they are heard.
- Schedule regular outings together and place the focus back on your relationship.
- Try to think of activities you can do together. For example, you can read a book or watch a movie together and then discuss it.
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How to deal with chronic illness that affects you financially
Chronic illness can also lead to financial strain and stress. Medical bills and prescription costs are skyrocketing, while insurance coverage pales in comparison.
Choosing a medical insurance plan to fit your needs has become more challenging due to high deductibles, premiums, and copayments.
As a result people are forced to choose between healthcare needs and putting food on the table.
Some of you changed your diet to include more nutrient dense foods. In doing so, you may have been hit with sticker shock. Eating healthy isn’t cheap, especially if you’ve chosen to eat organic.
Even juicing can be costly when you consider how much produce it takes to make an 8 ounce glass of juice.
Tips for living with chronic illness and the financial struggles that often accompany it
- Plan ahead as much as you’re able. Take advantage of FSA’s (Flexible Spending Accounts) and HSA’s (Health Savings Accounts). Both can be used to cover the cost of medications, procedures and other products and services.
- Enroll in prescription discount programs like GoodRx.
- Set up a payment plan with collection agencies.
- Purchase produce from farmers markets. Not only is the produce fresher, but the prices are usually cheaper.
How to deal with chronic illness when career and work are impacted
Chronic illness can have a huge impact on a person’s work life. Symptoms may force you to take time off from work. Add to that time you need to take off to accommodate multiple doctor’s appointments, blood tests, x-rays and scans.
You may find yourself using up all of your paid time off. You may even exceed your allotted PTO. Earnings may decrease as a result. Not to mention, your job security may suffer.
Physical limitations might limit the type of work you can do. You might not be able to perform duties that you once did with ease. Or you may be unable to sit or stand for long periods of time.
For some, chronic illness symptoms will prevent you from finishing college and pursuing the career of your dreams. You may have to settle for less appealing work.
Some may even have to go on disability and are forced to survive on meager earnings.
Tips for managing chronic illness when it results in limitations on work and career
- A dream deferred or denied is never easy. It may be hard to accept that your original plans are no longer within reach. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still dream. You just need to get creative in finding ways to pursue your passion.
- If you’re currently working, communicating with your employer is important in finding the best arrangement for your circumstances. They may be able to provide special accommodations that make conditions at your job more manageable.
- Consider negotiating a flexible work arrangement such as reduced hours that suit your needs.
- Examine whether FMLA is right for you. If eligible, you can take up to 12 weeks off during the course of a 12 month period. The time doesn’t have to all be taken consecutively. So you can use the time as needed, should the need arise.
Chronic illness can affect you physically, mentally and emotionally. It impacts your work life and career as well as your relationships and social life. It’s easy to withdraw from others and internalize feelings of anxiety, loss, depression, fear and frustration. Keeping the lines of communication open, seeking support when needed and having patience as you adapt can help you navigate your new way of living.