Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Accepting Your Chronic Illness


1. The act of enduring without protest or reaction.
2. The act of recognizing as true.

One of the hardest things to do when you have a chronic illness is to accept your situation. It is something that usually takes time and a lot of hard work to achieve. Why is it so hard to accept having a chronic illness? There are many reasons. Having a chronic illness may mean a complete change in lifestyle. It may mean taking several medications daily. It may mean the inability to do things you once enjoyed. Having a chronic illness may mean not knowing when you are going to feel good and when you are going to feel bad. There are a lot of unanswered questions that come along with having a chronic illness: “Why me?”, “What did I do to deserve this?”, “What is in store for my future?”.

When I talk about acceptance with my clients, I don’t mean that it is okay that you have a chronic illness. What I mean by “acceptance” is recognizing that your situation is long-lasting and making alterations in your life that will enable you to live the happiest, fullest life possible. You can’t avoid your illness but you can learn to live with it without struggling. It also means the ability not to let your illness define who you are. Your illness is something you have, it is not who you are.

So, how do you begin the process of accepting your chronic illness? Step one is acknowledging the fact that you may never get the answers to all of your questions. You may never find out why this happened to you or if there was something you could have done to prevent it. Sometimes it just is. Asking why can leave you feeling helpless. Step two is making alterations in your life. For example, if exercise is something you really enjoyed before you got diagnosed and you are now unable to exercise to the extent you could before, think of ways in which you are still able to exercise. Maybe yoga would be a better option, or if running is too strenuous now, take long walks instead. The third step of moving toward acceptance is to find meaning in your situation. You may never find the answer to why this happened to you. Instead of focusing on that aspect of your illness or on the negative parts of your illness, find a sense of meaning in your situation. Maybe that means leading a support group for others who have the same diagnosis as you do, or volunteering at a hospital, or maybe you have decided that you want to become a doctor because of your experiences. Whatever that meaning is for you, it is important to find something positive to focus on. Lastly, make it a goal to participate in at least one enjoyable activity per week. Having a chronic illness can be life changing. In order to avoid depression and in order to learn to live with your illness, it is important to continue to do activities you enjoy. Maintaining a sense of normalcy in as many areas as you can while making alterations in those areas that are necessary will help you to feel more in control of your life.

Remember, having a chronic illness does not have to be solely a negative experience. Along with the negative feelings and experiences derived from triumphant feelings and strength that come with overcoming obstacles. With each success comes the confidence that you're able to live a full, rewarding life and maybe even a more meaningful life than if you hadn't been diagnosed with your illness.

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