Monday, October 27, 2014

Is it Really Important to Have a Positive Attitude When Dealing With a Chronic Condition?

One of the last things someone with a chronic illness or chronic pain wants to hear is that they should think more positively. After all, it’s hard to have a positive attitude when you are in terrible pain or feel horrible and it may feel like some of the blame for how you feel is being placed on you when told this. However, studies have shown that having a positive attitude can help people with chronic illness/pain both mentally and physically. It makes sense, right? We know that chronic stress, anger and other negative emotions can have a detrimental impact on our health and lead to problems with brain and cardiac function. We know that it can lead to wear and tear of our bodies.

That said, it is unrealistic to expect people dealing with chronic pain or a chronic illness to have a positive attitude all of the time. It’s just not possible. In fact, being cheerful all of the time when dealing with a chronic condition can sometimes be linked to denial of the illness, which can lead to negative psychological consequences.

In my personal and professional experience, I’ve found that most people suffering from chronic pain and chronic illness want acknowledgement that what they are going through is real and that it is okay not to be okay sometimes. Pressure to be optimistic all of the time can lead to increased negative emotions. By allowing sufferers of chronic conditions to experience the uncertainty and frustrations that come along with having a chronic illness or chronic pain, family, friends and loved ones are actually making way for more positive feelings because not only can the patient express their feelings during difficult times rather than holding it in, the pressure to be optimistic all of the time is gone.

It is important for people with chronic conditions to find a good balance in their lives. It is also important for them to focus on what they have control over (diet, exercise, taking their medications, who is in charge of their treatment), rather than what they don’t (disease progression). Feeling in control leads to more positive emotions.

So, is it really important to have a positive attitude when dealing with a chronic condition? Yes. But it is also important to be able to feel and express the anger, frustration and uncertainty as well.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Do You Feel Like a Burden?

I have counseled hundreds of patients with chronic pain and chronic illness. Most of them have said “I feel like a burden to my friends and family”. I too have felt that way at times. It’s a common feeling for those of us with chronic pain or a chronic illness. Chronic conditions affect not only the patient but those close to the patient as well. Even though we didn’t do anything to cause our condition, we feel like it’s our fault and that we are making the lives of those around us more miserable. So what can you do to feel like less of a burden to your friends and family? I hope the following suggestions will help.

Contribute what you can, when you can. You may not be able to do as much as you used to, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything you can do. You also may not be able to do things as quickly as you used to. But that’s okay too. Take inventory of the chores and activities you can do and help out in those ways. So you may not be able to wash the heavy pots anymore. But can you wash the small dishes or load some of the dishes in the dishwasher? You may not be able to mop the floors anymore, but can you wipe down some of the counters? You may not be able to fold the laundry, but can you load the washer? Anything that you can still do will be appreciated.

Keep the lines of communication open. We can’t expect the people in our life to read our minds. They may not know if you are in pain or are not feeling well. It’s important to communicate about the way you feel, not only physically but emotionally, so your loved ones and the other people in your life know how they can help you or if you even want the help or if you just to be left alone. Also, in addition to educating yourself about your illness or chronic pain, educate those in your life as well so they know what to expect and there are few surprises.

Make your spouse, significant other, friends, etc. the center of attention at times. Do something nice for the close people in your life once in a while to show them how much you appreciate them. It can be as simple as telling them how much you appreciate them or telling them to go out for the afternoon and enjoy themselves. Talk to them about what they are going through to see if there is anything you can do for them. It’s important for us, the patients, to remember that we aren’t the only ones affected by our illness and that our caregivers need attention too.

Maintain a positive attitude. This is particularly hard on the days you are experiencing a lot of pain or just feel horrible. And I’m not advocating that you hide your emotions or act like someone you are not, especially on days that are particularly hard. But maintaining a positive attitude as much as possible is not only good for your well-being but for the well-being of others around you. It can help you better cope with your pain or illness and it can help you avoid taking out your frustrations on the people around you who are only trying to help and care for you.

Focus on something other than your illness/pain. No one wants to hear about how terrible someone feels all the time and no one wants to talk about how terrible they feel all the time. I know I sound like I’m contradicting myself because I told you above to communicate with the people in your life about your illness/pain and how you feel, but there is a time and place for that and you don’t want it to consume you or them. When you are around your loved ones, try focusing the attention on something other than your illness or pain if you can. If you are asked by someone how you are doing and you don’t want to get into it you can simply say “I’m fine thanks”, and then redirect the conversation to something else. Even if you aren’t feeling well on that particular day, it is important for you to have things in your life to focus on other than your pain or illness. This will help distract you from your pain or illness, at least for the time being, and will bring a sense of normalcy to your life.

Is there anything else you have done which has helped you feel like less of a burden?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Is It Time To Break Up With Your Doctor?

When you have a chronic illness or chronic pain, it is crucial to have a competent doctor who you trust to manage your care. Many of us have been in a doctor-patient relationship that just wasn’t working out. But sometimes knowing when to call it quits can be difficult. It means starting over which can be scary. It may be easier and more comfortable to stay in that unsatisfying doctor-patient relationship for the time being. But is that really what’s best for your health? Here are 10 signs that it may be time to break up with your doctor:

1. He/she doesn’t seem knowledgeable about your illness or pain. Just because they are doctors, that doesn’t mean they know everything about every condition. If your doctor doesn’t seem to have enough knowledge about your illness, find someone who does. Finding a doctor who is an expert in your particular illness can mean faster progress in finding the right medications and therapies that will work for you.

2. He/she doesn’t answer all your questions. You are not supposed to be the expert in your condition, your doctor is. It is their obligation to answer all of your questions so you have all the information you need in order to make the right decision about which options for your treatment work best for you.

3. You can’t get an appointment in a reasonable amount of time. Sure doctors are busy. But that doesn’t mean you should have to wait a month for an appointment, especially if you are not feeling well and need to be seen soon.

4. He/she doesn’t hear what you are saying. You know your body better than anyone and you know the symptoms you are experiencing. You know if you are or are not feeling better on a medication. You know if physical therapy is or isn’t working. It is your doctors’ responsibility to listen and discuss your treatment with you and if something isn’t working, to discuss alternatives.

5. Your condition is not improving. Many conditions require trial and error in treatment. If you are not improving on one medication, it may be time to try another. If your doctor doesn’t agree with this, look for someone who does.

6. He/she spends more time writing notes than looking at you. Having a doctor who shows he or she cares about what you are dealing with is so important. A good doctor sits, makes eye contact, asks questions, and listens to your answers to work out a diagnosis and treatment plan.

7. You don’t trust him/her. When you have chronic pain or a chronic illness it’s crucial to have a competent doctor in charge of your care. If you don’t trust your doctor, your instincts are probably correct and it is time to find someone you do trust.

8. He/she doesn’t explain his/her treatment plan. Treatment is not one-size-fits-all, especially when dealing with chronic pain and chronic illness. These are often complex problems and what works for one person may not work for another. Treatment options may be confusing and require choices from you that entail thinking about what would be best for you at that time in your life. Therefore, you as the patient must be informed about possible treatment options and your doctors plan for the immediate future as well as possible long-term options so you can make an informed decision.

9. You can’t reach him/her outside normal business hours. What happens if you have a question that is emergent but not so serious that you want to go to the emergency room? Most great doctors will have an after-hours doctor on staff or a way to be paged if needed. If this is something you feel you may need and your doctor doesn’t offer this, it may be time to find someone else.

10. Your doctor or the staff does not return phone calls. There’s no excuse for not receiving a call back from your doctor or their staff within a timely manner unless you have told them it can wait. They should call you back because it’s the right thing to do, especially if you are experiencing symptoms or have a question that requires a timely response.