Living with Crohn’s disease or any chronic illness and finding ways to make your life better requires an approach that is both realistic and positive. “Wait,” you might think, “How does one use chronic illness to better their life?” It is possible.
My Coping Strategies
Here are the five ways I have used chronic illness to improve my own life.
1. I allowed myself to grieve and heal.
I recognized that grief is just as important as healing. I allowed myself to grieve the loss of being healthy and having an identity of good health. I have mourned and I have permitted myself to feel denial, anger, frustration and sadness. I knew all these emotions were an important part of working towards healing and finding a better quality of life despite chronic illness.
I also learned that healing is both physical and emotional. Often times, we need more than just medicine to help our bodies get to a better state of health. Having a meaningful and rewarding life often requires recognizing that healing is all around us. We must allow ourselves to heal by connecting to nature, to God or with people who can help us to rebuild our inner strength and mend our souls.
2. I chose to appreciate life.
Having had my life changed by chronic illness in my early 30s, I know all too well the value of appreciating all life has to offer. Former President John F. Kennedy once said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” I know that even if I cannot find a reason to appreciate chronic illness, I can still appreciate the ways that it has changed my life for the better. This is because chronic illness becomes a way of life that allows you to see what really matters, how important loved ones are and how to find blessings in the smallest of life’s gifts.
3. I chose to accept what I could not control and to control what I could.
I have allowed myself to accept that chronic illness is just one part of my life. Accepting it does not mean I hate my life or that I give in to my diagnoses. It means that I choose to feel my emotions about my illnesses while I work to manage my health and enjoy a different, yet good quality of life. I have learned that by building acceptance for what is out my hands and for being compassionate towards my experiences, I can redevelop myself. Moreover, I have found strength I never knew I had before.
Living with chronic illness may have closed some doors for me but it has also brought with it many unanticipated opportunities. Further, it has allowed me to take inventory of the standards I set for myself and of the goals I strive to achieve. I know what is important in my life and how to commit myself towards my goals. Last, I am well aware of the possibility of unexpected stress or medical problems that may arise and interfere with my ambitions. In being conscious to potential problems, I am able to better accept what I cannot control and to better control what I can.
4. I took control of my health.
While I recognize that my body and health are mine, chronic illness has, on numerous occasions, made me feel like a victim of circumstance. Self-pity does not make anything better and I was not able to truly take control of my health until I came upon this realization. If you are not getting a proper diagnosis or your medications are not working, it is your responsibility to do what is best for you. After all, taking charge of your wellbeing is the key to happiness and healing.
5. I reached out and served others.
I made a choice from day one to reach out so that I did not feel isolated. There are countless individuals who understood my fears and challenges and who have a wealth of knowledge and experience to offer. Deciding to reach out is your choice alone and it is something no one else can do for you. There are numerous support groups in your local community and online which offer a connection to support and resources for working towards a better quality of life despite chronic illness.
I also choose to serve others struggling with similar challenges brought upon by chronic illness. In doing so, I found that my own burden of feeling alone was lessened and I was creating new friendships and strengthening old ones. By finding ways to help others in your local community, online, and/or your church, you can make a difference in your life and the lives of others. As you share and help, your love and compassion will increase and you will find that your own trials are easier to bear.
Bettering Your Life
Tough times bring out the worst and the best in all of us. Choosing to allow chronic illness to better us is winning half the battle. In reality, none of us can change our circumstances, but we can choose to decide what living well and being better means to us.