Reviewed by Phillip Waite, Ph.D.
Living and coping with chronic illness can be difficult. It often requires stressful changes to your life and the lives of family members closest to you. Fortunately, there are a few tried and true steps for healing well with chronic illness that can make coping easier and your life more fulfilling. I hope these admonitions for healing help you as much as they've helped me.
1) Let go.
A common mistake many people make when they are first diagnosed with chronic illness is to allow it to define who they are. To heal well you need to see yourself for who you really are. You are still you; you are not your illness. Sometimes life doesn't turn out the way you may have wanted it and chronic illness can alter even the best laid plans, but that shouldn't hold you back from your future. The philosopher Joseph Campbell said, "We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us." By letting go, you open up a new chapter in your life and face the future with hope and optimism.
2) Be teachable.
Adversity can be your greatest enemy or your greatest teacher. You can learn from it, be shaped by it and grow through the experience. Or you can let it get the best of you and keep you down. In the book "The Anguish and Adventure of Adversity", author Cheryl Carson wrote, "How we allow our afflictions to affect us, whether we give up or endure, whether we become bitter or compassionate, is our choice." Chronic illness can teach you that you have a greater capacity for enduring and overcoming challenges than you ever imagined. It can also teach you empathy for others. You can emerge as a kinder, gentler person by choosing love over hate, compassion over regret, healing over self-pity.
3) Be mindful.
Being mindful is about learning to focus on the present, paying careful attention to yourself and the world around you to counter the inevitable stresses you will face. Being mindful means being calm, intuitive, hopeful and insightful. When you are mindful you treat yourself with kindness and compassion. You acknowledge your challenges but don't let them bind you. You can practice mindfulness through daily meditation, or just by taking time out each day to "stop and smell the roses." Consciously make a decision today to live in the here and now and welcome each day with a greater sense of peace.
4) Be grateful.
Inventor Frederick Keonig said, "We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have." Gratitude is the foundation of happiness. It may seem counter-intuitive, but you can even find reasons to be grateful for chronic illness. You can't change it, but try looking for ways it has changed your life for the good. Chronic illness helps you focus on what really matters, like your relationships with family and friends. It helps you appreciate small things, like a hug from a loved one or the warmth of sunlight on your skin. When practiced regularly, you'll feel grateful for life and the possibilities it offers you
5) Reach out.
When you're first diagnosed, it's easy to believe that you are all alone. Chronic illness can be socially isolating. But there are likely hundreds of people just like you nearby and thousands elsewhere that have already walked in your shoes. They know the path you face and understand your challenges like no one else does. But it's up to you to reach out. Local support groups can be invaluable to healing. Even support communities or forums can provide a lifeline that can make coping with your illness easier. There are angels in disguise waiting to help you; you just need to reach out to them.
6) Serve others.
Selfless service does two things to you. First, it lightens your burdens by focusing on the needs of others. Suddenly the problems or challenges you face don't feel so overwhelming and daunting. Service can also strengthen your existing relationships in a lasting and more meaningful way. Find ways to serve others in your family, church, community or even online. By making a difference in the lives of others, you will make a difference in your own.
7) Build relationships.
Surround yourself with family or friends that are caring, empathetic and willing to lend support during times of crisis. If you have someone in your life like this, that's terrific. If not, it's time to start making the effort to build relationships of trust with loved ones. Find someone who is willing to listen and with whom you can be honest. Communicate regularly with them. It's important to recognize that trust is mutual. Special people in your life may be there for you with love and compassion, and you should do the same. As you share your trials, heartaches and love with them, healing will arise.
8) Recognize healing.
Healing is much more than physical. Sometimes even the best medicine the world can offer can't restore our bodies to perfect health. That's the nature of chronic illness: it's chronic. But that doesn't mean you can't live a meaningful and fulfilling life. Learn to recognize sources of healing around you every day. Work on your connections to nature, God and the people around you to mend your broken spirit and build resilience. Look for healing around you and you will find it.
9) Maintain balance.
Life can get out of balance pretty quickly. When you have a chronic illness, that balance can be even more difficult to maintain. Life is really just a form of controlled chaos. It's messy and never perfect. Worrying doesn't solve anything. Remember that harmony and balance is not a state, it's a process of continual readjustments. Don't seek perfection. Find balance and joy in the moment.
10) Take control.
When you're diagnosed with chronic illness, it's easy to think of yourself as a victim. After all, you didn't choose to get sick, right? But as Helen Keller said, "Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world." It won't make you better. In fact, self-pity can actually make you worse. Recognize that only you can take control of your health. If you aren't getting the diagnosis or treatment you need, keep at it until you do. Empower yourself. It's your body, it's your life. Take charge of it and happiness and healing will result.