Tips for Coping with Chronic Illness

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be medical advice, if you are in need of medical assistance or advice, please, please, please contact your closest doctor/clinic/hospital/helpline.

Living with a chronic or mental illness (or illnesses) takes its toll every day; there are no two ways about it. But there are some steps you can put in place and which may get you to a place where you can cope easier and perhaps also lessen some of your symptoms. Unfortunately not every person is the same and not everyone has the same illness to the same degree, so it is basically impossible to set hard and fast rules. And I won’t act like following these tips will suddenly cure an incurable disease or will make the symptoms disappear forever. Rather, these tips are something to hold onto when the going gets tough and you need to get right back to the basics to make it through the day. They are tips which I find helps me.

Focus on what you can do

One of the worst parts of chronic illness of any type (under which I am also counting the joy that is mental illness), is that what you are capable of can vary from day to day and sometimes even from hour to hour. Some days this variation can be very slight, while other days the illness may be debilitating. And on those days you need to give yourself credit for doing things like brushing your teeth, making a cup of tea for yourself, or just eating something.

Far from being melodramatic, these are the types of things you should be proud of. If you suffer from bipolar,depression, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, or various other illnesses, getting out of bed and getting dressed can feel as if you’ve just conquered Kilimanjaro (or Everest…) – and you should give yourself credit for it. Not to mention the countless other illnesses which can strike without warning. Focus on what you can do on that specific day and, if you need to move some things (like meetings/appointments) around, do it as early in the day as possible instead of waiting to see if you’re suddenly going to start feeling better. Keep in mind that you only have a specific amount of spoons every day. (If you don’t know what I mean by spoons, read this.)

Keep a routine as far as possible

That said, try and keep to a routine. This includes going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, eating your meals at about the same time every day and taking your medication as prescribed at the same time every day (see the next tip below).

Going to work (if you are able to) can and should also be part of the routine. Try to remind yourself that you need to get out of your home and that going to work can count as your “getting out of the house” for the day. Just going out to drink a cup of coffee or tea by yourself over the weekend can also help you to get out of the house. You can make sure that you go when things aren’t as busy to ensure that you get a proper table (I know that I prefer to sit at “my table” when I go to the coffee shop to write), and aren’t stuck in a busy place where a panic attack may be inevitable. This coffee date can also become part of your routine and can be something to look forward to during the week.

Take your medication

It is extremely important that you take your medication as prescribed by your doctor, whether this is pain killers, mood stabilisers, anti-depressants, or whatever your personal pill cocktail is made up of. Make sure you know when and how much of a certain medication you need to drink and always contact your doctor before changing anything ; even the time of day you drink the medication.

If you are afraid of forgetting to take your medication, put a reminder with an alarm on your phone and include which medication and how much you need to take. That way you won’t leave the house or go to bed without taking your medication.

If you are travelling, remember to pack your medication in such a way that it is easy to reach. Also add a few days’ medication just in case you are delayed somewhere. It’s also a good idea to carry your doctor’s card and a list of your medication with you in case you need to get a hold of him/her and can’t use your cell. Actually, having a list of medication with you is always a good idea in case, God forbid, something happens and you need to go to the hospital. This in itself is stressful enough without worrying that you’ll forget how much you take of a specific medication.

Watch your diet (and fluid intake)

Need I say more? Eat as healthy as you can, drink enough water…

Fight against stigma and misinformation whenever and wherever you can

We may like to brag that we are living in an ultra modern time, but living in the twenty-first century unfortunately does not mean that we have moved past stigma when it comes to chronic illness, invisible illness, and mental illness. And it’s about time that that stigma becomes a thing of the past. Like decorated codpieces. (Why was that ever a thing?)

Fighting against stigma means educating people on what certain illnesses really means. It means speaking up when people make insensitive/wrong/downright disgusting remarks about chronic, invisible, and mental illness. In doing so you might just find allies in your struggle for wellness and health.

While there are those who do not want to learn more about these illnesses – or would ever apologise for insensitive/downright disgusting remarks – I have found that most people will listen and apologise when they learn more about these illnesses and realise that they’ve hurt you. There are also many who will, instead of showing simply pity, will show support even if it is in small ways like not telling you to “smile a bit”. After all, when you are in pain, in the depths of depression or suffering from various other symptoms, the last thing you want to hear is that you should force a smile on your face when what you actually want to do is go to the bathroom and cry for a while.

Here are some of my other articles:
Chronically and Mentally Ill Does Not Mean Unable
Chronic Illness Sufferers: Do Not Call Us Liars (Here’s the Afrikaans version)

Do you have any tips you would like to share? Perhaps for a specific illness?

By Carin Marais

Bibliophile, writer of speculative fiction, non-fiction, and maybe-fiction, language practitioner, doer of stuff.


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