One of the most difficult challenges of dealing with chronic illness is maintaining a positive outlook. You can probably remember a time when life was “normal” and not full of doctor appointments, medication schedules, and medical procedures. For many, chronic illness represents a “new normal” that, according to experts, doesn’t have to define or completely control you.
Fashion blogger Meg from Meg Says, who suffers from neuroimmune illness ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), notes that one of the hardest parts of dealing with her condition was accepting it. Once she accepted her condition, she says, she was then free to move on from obsessing with what she couldn’t do, to focusing on and embracing what she could do.
Finding support is another way to remain upbeat. Giving and receiving practical and emotional support from people going through a similar experience can be a powerful source of positive energy. If you can’t find a support group in your community or online, it is easier than ever to start your own group. Teenager Sneha Dave, who was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 6, says of her condition, “I felt alone; I really had no one I could relate to with this illness. I knew this must be the same for the 80,000 other teens in America who are living with Crohn’s and colitis. That’s what inspired me to create change by starting a nonprofit, the Crohn’s and Colitis Teen Times.”
It is also important to be realistic. Psychologist Tamara McClintock Greenberg writes in Psychology Today, “Being positive all of the time when dealing with illness is unrealistic. In fact, being excessively upbeat is sometimes linked with the denial of illness. Being Pollyannish or in denial can lead to negative psychological and even physical consequences. For example, avoiding the reality of illness can lead to people not taking care of themselves. What I recommend is finding a balance between acting falsely buoyant and feelings of despair. Being hopeful is reasonable. Complete disavowal of negative information about illness can be problematic; cautious optimism is often ideal.”
Self care is also critical. The American Psychological Association (APA) suggests, “Don’t allow worries about your illness to get in the way of eating properly, getting rest and exercise, and having fun. Maintain a daily routine of work, errands, household chores, and hobbies as much as possible. This will provide you with a feeling of stability amid the chaos and uncertainty of your illness.”
Get educated about your condition. One of the biggest sources of anxiety and fear when coping with any illness is the uncertainty about the future that illness brings. Getting educated about your condition through reputable sources–books, websites, events, and other channels–can help you have realistic expectations for the near and long-term future.
Ask for help. If you feel constantly depressed or anxious, you may be at risk of clinical depression. That’s the last thing someone needs when already dealing with chronic health issues. It may be that psychological therapy and/or medication is needed. According to the APA, signs that you might need therapy include:
Just as you are seeking help with your physical health condition, you should feel free to seek help for you mental health. See the APA’s helpful web page, “How to choose a psychologist.”