Coping with Chronic Illness: 7 Recommendations
The habitual course of life of each of us can change overnight. This happened to the lawyer Tony Bernhard: illness forced her to interrupt her successful career. The result is chronic pain, social isolation, despair, and endless feelings of guilt. How to live with illness? Tony shares her observations.
Tony Bernhardt worked for 22 years as a law professor at the University of California, Davis, was fond of spiritual practices and taught meditation with her husband until a serious illness knocked her out of her usual rut. She had to learn to live in new circumstances. She wrote a book about her experience, “How to Live Being Sick.” Below are a few of her recommendations from the book.
1. Pain and illness are part of life. Don’t blame yourself for what happened
Once I realized: every person at one time or another is faced with health problems. And after that, she stopped blaming herself and fate for her troubles. I used to think that life was unfair to me, that I was cheated in some way. Having given up the torment, I immediately felt a huge relief.
A sick person already has enough difficulties coping with the illness daily. The question “Why me?” Not only is it unconstructive, it increases anxiety and distress. Why burden yourself with what you cannot get rid of? Let’s be honest with ourselves: this is human nature, everyone is prone to injury and illness, this is a condition of our existence. For me, being alive is a gift (even if its source is incomprehensible). And I will always try to find ways to live as rich and fulfilling a life as I can, given my limitations. It is impossible to bypass them or not notice: a chronic illness has sharply narrowed the possibilities, but this is not my fault.
2. Accepting that life is unpredictable is the first step to coming to terms with circumstances
If we were in complete control of life, we would ensure ourselves an extremely enjoyable experience, wouldn’t we? But the facts are such that we usually don’t get what we want (or get what we don’t want). At first glance, this may sound pessimistic. But not for me. I prefer to know what to expect than to live in ignorance and constantly get discouraged about not getting what I hoped for.
Acknowledging that life is uncertain and unpredictable can help you gain a calm state of mind. The state that allows us to accept with grace everything that fate has to offer. It’s difficult, I don’t argue. In fact, I am not always cold-blooded, but I adhere to this path.
3. It’s natural to feel lonely when you find yourself in isolation
Chronic illness forces many of us to abandon active work and social life and dooms them to relative isolation. A sudden change in lifestyle can be traumatic – at home, someone will have to deal with a feeling of loneliness that they have never experienced before. Over time, by mastering some effective practices, we can transform loneliness into solitude that gives a sense of peace. In any case, there is nothing wrong with feeling lonely at times. It still happens to me now. When melancholy happens, I treat it like an old (and uninvited) friend and do something nice, soothing, until it goes away.
4. Chat with other people online, if possible
20 years ago, a housebound person could communicate with others in only two ways: by phone or during visits from loved ones. Fortunately, today, connecting with a large circle of acquaintances allows you to maintain social networks, email, text messages, Skype, Internet forums and so on. In addition, the Internet allows us to keep abreast of medical news regarding our specific health problems.
5. Finding your own rhythm of life can be the best treatment
The essence of this skill is the ability to correctly distribute forces during the day so that the body is able to cope with the load, and the symptoms of the disease do not worsen. Measure physical activity and rest. Do not overdo it during a period of time when you feel good so that later you do not pay for it by being bedridden for longer than usual. Distributing forces is a whole art that I have not yet mastered perfectly and continue to learn.
6. The ability to be happy for others will ease suffering and make you feel a little happier
If the idea of admiring the success of those who are in good health is not at all close to you, there is nothing strange about it. Still, try to be happy for them: it will help you feel better.
Start by thinking sweetly about accomplishments you don’t personally yearn for, such as expressing your admiration for a friend’s victory at a major sporting event or someone’s reward for a new literary novel. As you think about the person’s joy, try to feel happy for him or her.
The harder task – which is why it takes practice – is to share the pleasant experiences of the person doing what you yourself would like to do but cannot. Let me give you an example: my husband takes my granddaughter to the theater to watch my favorite musical. Before, I experienced only envy and resentment. But then I was able to change painful emotions, turn them into a feeling of joy for loved ones. And when I did that, I really felt happy, as if they were going to a musical especially for me.
I still sometimes feel jealous or annoyed when I hear people doing what I would like to do, but at least I have a tool to change my emotions. It is worth the effort because jealousy, irritation and resentment are physically and mentally exhausting. By working on ourselves, we can go a long way towards excluding them from emotional life.
7. Make compassion for yourself a priority
I saved my top priority for last. I get a lot of emails from people who have read my book, Living With Illness. Most often, they notice the following: before reading the book, it never occurred to them that it was possible – and even highly desirable – to show empathy for themselves. And that’s all there is to know about self-compassion: be kind and generous to yourself. This is the best way to relieve the mental distress caused by chronic illness.
Many people find it easy to empathize with others, but they also criticize themselves mercilessly. They seem to think they don’t deserve their kindness. In my opinion, there is never a good reason to be unkind or harsh with yourself. Of course, you can always learn from your mistakes. But learn and move on without getting hung up on feelings of guilt.
And remember: despite your health problems, you are still a whole person, and do not let anyone try to convince you otherwise.
Tags: chronic disease, lifestyle, treatment