If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness, it might be difficult to imagine living “well” ever again. After all, your life has been turned upside down, and you now have chronic pain on a regular basis.
How does anyone live well that way?
You wouldn’t be the first person to ask this question. Although it seems like an impossibility, you can live well with chronic illness. It’s important to remember that yes, your body, your strength, and even your emotions have changed, but, at the core, you still have the same potential you were born with.
Now you just have to steer that passion in another direction.
1. Acknowledge Your Limitations
There are five stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, finally, acceptance. When you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness, you will likely go through a grieving process. After all, you’ve experienced a tremendous loss. And it’s normal and healthy to grieve.
While you’re in these stages of grief, or even afterward, when you’ve come to a place of acceptance, but still struggle with chronic pain, fatigue, and other symptoms, be patient with yourself.
If you used to work 40 hours a week and you continue to do so even though you can barely get through a day without crippling pain and fatigue, you may be in the first stage of grief.
Acknowledging your limitations may help you move past this first stage. This doesn’t mean you’re giving up or declaring yourself a weak person. This just means you’re taking care of yourself.
You can’t run on broken legs, and you can’t work a full-time job, have a social life, hobbies, and run a household if you have a chronic illness. Sometimes, you may feel well enough to do these things. Other times, not so much.
Acknowledging your limitations doesn’t take away your power. In fact, it gives you the insight you need to prioritize what’s important.
2. Celebrate Your Strengths
This is such an important one. Once you know which activities and situations cause you physical and mental strain, start looking inward for strengths you may have forgotten all about once you got into “adult life”.
What did you want to be when you grew up? A counselor? A writer? An artist? Are you good at making jewelry? Are you a nurturing and compassionate person by nature?
Our society makes it difficult to see beyond the workplace to find success and fulfillment in life. The truth is, it really isn’t the job you do or the career you have that makes you who you are. It’s the inward drive that drew you toward a particular career in the first place.
Write a list of your 10 best strengths. It could be anything from being good at telling jokes, being a good listener, writing, painting, gardening, or taking care of animals.
The list goes on.
When you celebrate your strengths, life no longer feels as though it has stopped. Rather, it’s more like you’ve come to a fork in the road and are going down a new path.
3. Surround Yourself With Support
Support is an absolutely essential part of living well with a chronic illness. Friends, family, co-workers, and other people in your life who understand what you’re going through, believe you, and want to be there for you, are the best people to have around.
4. Learn to Pace Yourself
Everybody with a chronic illness has good days and bad days. When you’re having a good day, it can be tempting to do three days worth of errands, chores, and/or work in one day. While this may make you feel accomplished, you could wake up the next morning feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck.
If tackling everything at once leaves you in bed for three days recovering, have you really made the best use of your time?
Listen to your body. When you need rest, rest. When you feel you can do more, do more. Take each day, each hour, each moment, if necessary, as it comes.
5. Get Comfortable Saying “No”
“But, you don’t look sick.” “I’ve seen you out a lot lately. You must be feeling better!”
Statements like these are hard for someone with chronic illness to hear. Because people with invisible illness often don’t have any outward signs of their condition, healthy people assume nothing is wrong with them or that they have recovered. This can tempt others to ask you to do more than you’re really capable of doing.
Saying “no” might be difficult at first, especially if you’re used to taking on more than your fair share, but it will be the best thing you can do for yourself in the long run.
6. Connect With Others in Your Situation
While family and friends may want to be supportive, they’ll never truly understand what you’re going through. It’s not that they don’t care, they just can’t imagine what it’s like to live with chronic pain. They have no frame of reference for it.
That’s why it’s important to connect with others living with a chronic illness. Having a support community, whether in person, online, or over the phone, can lessen your feelings of isolation and help you form new and important social bonds.
7. Become an Advocate
Unless you’ve had your chronic illness since childhood, chances are, you had to do a lot of fighting to get the correct diagnosis and treatment for your condition. In fact, you may have had to tell more than one doctor that you weren’t making up your condition for sympathy!
Becoming an advocate for those living with chronic pain can be as simple as joining online forums, signing petitions, becoming a member of a chronic illness support group, and speaking (or writing) your mind on the subject.
Those living with a chronic illness are marginalized like other minority groups, and our voices are just as important. Make your voice heard, and you’ll feel like you’re a part of something progressive and wonderful.
8. Remove Toxins From Your Life
Another secret to living well with a chronic illness is to stabilize your symptoms by reducing the toxins you’re exposed to in everyday life. This includes toxic relationships and toxic situations since both can wreak havoc with your health.
It’s also important to eliminate toxic food and toxic household supplies that may worsen your condition over time.
Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye has been shown to trigger inflammation.
According to a study published by Rheumatology International, a gluten-free diet seemed to be of great help to those living with fibromyalgia. The diet seemed to significantly reduce gastrointestinal complaints, fatigue, and brain fog. And, for 15 of the patients studied, the condition went into complete remission as a result of the dietary change.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as triclosan, parabens, and bisphenol A could be a contributing factor in the development and retention of a chronic illness.
According to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, increased sensitivity to environmental and food allergens was directly linked with exposure to triclosan and parabens, especially among men.
9. Find Reasons to Laugh
According to a study published in the Journal of Aging Research, laughter or “humor therapy” was shown to significantly decrease pain and loneliness perception while increasing feelings of happiness and satisfaction in life.
Laughter has also been shown to boost immunity and reduce stress hormone levels.
So, joke with friends, read and share funny stories, and enjoy comedy movies and sitcoms. It’s not laziness, it’s therapy!
10. Eat the Healthiest Diet Available
With all the conflicting information out there about organic food, conventionally-grown food, and GMOs, it can be difficult to know what to take seriously. After all, you might be wondering just how a $2.00 bag of carrots compares with a $1.00 bag when it comes to your health. They both look the same, right?
They may look the same, but not all food is created equal. According to a study published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, it was revealed that farm workers who worked with pesticides were significantly more susceptible to developing a systemic autoimmune disease.
Dr. Christine G. Parks of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences conducted research that linked pesticide exposure to an increased risk for the development of autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
So, in short, yes, the $2.00 bag of organic carrots is well worth the investment.
11. Make Sleep Your #1 Priority
Even the healthiest, most able-bodied individuals need at least 7 hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep to function at their best. Those living with a chronic illness often require more, and understandably so. When you have a chronic illness, your mind and body are in a battle every single day. It’s exhausting. Not only that, but doing your best to “look normal” and fit in only makes things worse.
That’s why sleep should be your #1 priority. Go to bed early and plan for 9 to 10 hours of sleep each night. If you need to, take a nap. The more you sleep, the more time your body has to heal and rebuild itself.
12. Be Mindful and Grateful
Being mindful means living in the moment exactly as it is. This means not thinking about the past or contemplating the future. Just be. Right now, feel the chair or bed beneath you and your fingers scrolling down the keyboard. Take note of the scent in the air, the temperature of the room, and the sights around you.
Bringing yourself back into a state of mindfulness on a regular basis can help you better cope with the pain and also find reasons to feel grateful for the little things in life.
Keep a gratitude journal. This way, when you’re having an especially rough day, you can look over these entries and realize that there’s always something to look forward to.
My book, Life Beyond Chronic Pain: The Step-By-Step Guide to Healing Chronic Illness Naturally, goes beyond teaching you how to live well with a chronic illness. It gives you back your power and shows you how to put your chronic illness into remission safely and naturally. Pick up your copy of my guide today!
Life Beyond Chronic Pain: The Step-by-Step Guide to Healing Chronic Illness Naturally