Living with a chronic illness can drain you physically, mentally — and financially. Unfortunately, no one gives you a crash course on how to deal with your condition.
You now have to navigate a new world of diet plans, medications, appointments with providers and workplace accommodations. You also have to learn how to cope with the pain or frustrations your condition brings. Here are eight tips for how to deal with chronic illness.
1. Find Work That You Can Realistically Do
Chronic illness will interfere with your work life despite your best efforts to keep your career and personal matters separate. Unfortunately, most physicians don’t keep evening and weekend hours, and you’ll eventually need to punch out for an appointment.
Your first order of business is to find work that you can realistically do. Things get tricky if your physical limitations only hinder you sometimes, such as when you have certain forms of MS. When accepting positions, plan for when you are at your worst, not your best — if driving sometimes proves impossible, Uber is probably an unwise career choice.
Keep in mind that while you can legally request reasonable accommodations, employers don’t have to grant them if doing so would alter your essential job functions — it’s why you’ll never find blind airline pilots. It’s one thing to ask for a chair that provides extra lumbar support and quite another to navigate a crowded restaurant with a white cane in one hand and a tray of drinks in the other.
2. Cover Yourself
Here’s something they don’t tell you in high school — don’t wait until you have a diagnosis of a chronic illness to seek disability insurance. If you do, you won’t find a policy that will cover the one condition most likely to render you unable to work. Don’t make the mistake of thinking, “Well, I’m already sick — too late.” Many chronic illnesses have multiple comorbidities, so insure yourself against the possibility.
Do everything possible to keep your health insurance from lapsing. Recent changes to the Supreme Court put the future of the Affordable Care Act in jeopardy. However, medical bankruptcy can make it problematic to find a new home if you currently rent or buy a new car.
If you have sufficient privilege, you might consider emigrating to a country that guarantees healthcare as a right. While this solution may seem extreme, the implications of bankruptcy and permanent indebtedness from medical bills can result in lifelong economic frustration — and the stress can further exacerbate your symptoms.
3. Improve Your Diet
You probably resent the way that certain foods can cause a flare, but dealing with a chronic illness means looking at your body as a giant chemistry set. Anything that you consume can throw off your balance, sometimes with painful flares as a result.
You’ll find tons of advice online, but some general principles apply. Strive to eat a healthy, plant-based diet. Different colors of fruits and veggies contain various phytonutrients that your body needs.
Stay away from ultra-processed foods that contain tons of white flour, salt and sugar. Salt can aggravate high blood pressure, and sugar throws diabetes into a tailspin. Manufacturers strip vital nutrients from white flour when they remove the bran, leaving you with an empty yet calorie-rich glue that gums up your digestion and negatively impacts gut bacteria.
4. Adopt an Exercise Plan That You Love
One of the most challenging aspects of dealing with a chronic illness is knowing that you need to move but feeling too sick to do so. Exercise benefits everyone, but finding something you love now becomes even more vital.
You can do gentle yoga in bed on those days when you can’t rise from the covers. Dancing can help reduce your Alzheimer’s risk, and all you need is a cellphone and a speaker to dock it on for tunes. Water-based workouts take the pressure off sore joints if arthritis causes pain.
5. Engage in Stress Reduction
Stress may or may not cause chronic illness — researchers continue to investigate the connection. However, too much tension can make your symptoms worse.
Find a healthy way to relieve stress, such as practicing yoga or meditation. Learning mindfulness activities that you can do anywhere helps when you feel about to blow your top, but you can’t get to a mat.
6. Build a Support System
Dealing with a chronic illness too often results in lost friendships. People don’t know what to say when “get well soon” isn’t going to happen. Others stop including you in their invite list when you RSVP no out of exhaustion one too many times.
Fortunately, the advent of the internet means you don’t have to sit on uncomfortable chairs in church basements to find support groups. You can find others with your conditions online and build a support system to help you through challenging times.
7. Invest in Necessary Supplies
Another thing they don’t teach you in school — the insulin fairy doesn’t show up at your door monthly with insulin injections. If you need anything from a therapy lamp for seasonal affective disorder to comfort crutches for mobility issues, you need to fund these things yourself in America.
Unless you’re cozy with GoFundMe, find a way to invest in the necessary supplies you need. You might have to work extra hours to afford them, but once you have them, they’ll make living with your chronic illness easier to bear.
8. Remember, You Are Not Your Disorder
Dealing with a chronic illness can take up your entire life, or so it seems. Take time to cultivate the you that existed before your diagnosis.
Take time to engage in the hobbies you had before you got sick. If you previously enjoyed running, there’s no reason to stop unless your doctor tells you to do so. Find ways to socialize virtually if a heart condition or diabetes makes you loathe to venture out during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deal With Chronic Illness With These 8 Tips
While maybe they should, no one tells you how to deal with chronic illness until you get hit. Take it from folks who have walked the walk and use these eight tips to cope more effectively.