Lana Barhum, freelance writer, has lived with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia since 2008. She uses her experiences to share expert advice on living successfully with chronic illness.
Nearly 145 million people in the United States suffer from a chronic illness—that is almost one out of every two adults.
It is estimated that at least one-third of these individuals also suffer from depression and anxiety as a result of their chronic illnesses, and often times their mood disorders are underdiagnosed and untreated. These statistics also indicate that living with illness is a lonely experience and show us how vital it is to stay connected with people who can help you to cope.
While it is normal to experience grief, fear, and isolation, you can still find ways to cope and get help. Here are a few suggestions toward making connections and getting the help you need to make living with a chronic illness easier.
Talk to your doctor.
Your doctor and his or her office staff are great resources, so ask them for ideas on how and where you can find support. It is also important to be open and honest with your doctor. Make sure you talk openly about your heart condition, and be sure your doctor is open to answering your questions and addressing your concerns. And when you visit your doctor, be prepared. Write down any questions and concerns prior to your office visit regarding all the things you want to know about, such as test results, medications, and new symptoms.
Reach out to family and friends.
Know that you need support from everyone, especially those closest to you. Family and friends care about you and they want to support you. You may find it hard to share aspects of your illness with loved ones because you fear judgment or embarrassment, but thinking about talking to people is a lot worse than actually talking to them.
You will need to share your illness for a variety of reasons. One reason is so family and friends can help you if you have a medical emergency or crisis. Another reason is so that others know why your energy levels are low and why you are unable to complete tasks at home. Reach out and share because people care about you and actually want to support and help you.
Remember you are the expert.
When it comes to your experience with your heart condition, you are the expert. If you have questions about pain management and managing your symptoms, work with your doctor. But in the end, you know what is best for you. Learn everything you can about your illness so you can manage your heart condition better. Become an active partner with your doctor so you are able to understand what makes your condition better or worse, what you can to do to manage flare-ups, and what you can expect from your doctor and yourself.
Do not expect anyone else to read up about your illness or learn to manage it. You are the expert, so be prepared to share this information with loved ones and your doctor. You are the one who will answer all the questions on the management of your disease when loved ones, friends, or members of your medical team ask.
Let people help you.
There are many people in your life who genuinely want to help. It is your responsibility to share with loved ones the ways in which they can help you. Help them help you. Sometimes, you may need help with self-care and daily tasks, and other times you may just need someone to talk to.
It is perfectly alright to ask for advice when you need it. Share what you feel comfortable sharing about your condition, your lifestyle, and how you manage your disease. You can always ask people to respect your privacy if you are not up to sharing or if they are asking questions that are too personal for your comfort.
Support groups are also a vital resource to help you learn more about your illness and to feel emotionally supported. You can get involved in online discussions or locate a support group for your illness in your local area. This is a great way to meet others living with the same illness.
Keep reaching out
It is normal to feel that your life is chaotic, and you may often have feelings of fear and grief. You may be tempted to isolate yourself, but don't make that a habit because you will likely become depressed. Continue to reach out to others and do the things you enjoy. This will help boost your moods, increase your self-esteem, and keep you actively involved in your relationships.