Attack on America & The Chronically Ill: How to Avoid Taking Another Pill

by Lisa Copen

The Washington Post recently reported that the attacks on America have resulted in an increase in chronic pain from patients who already live daily with illness and pain. It comes as no surprise to those of us who are chronically ill. Pain, depression, financial struggles and a lack of control of our future are daily parts of our everyday life; but when national devastating events occur it can exasperate the painful chronic conditions.

Mark J. Lema, chairman of anesthesiology at the State University of New York at Buffalo, said that clinic traffic at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute there has doubled in recent days because of pain complaints, and he said those complaints stem from the stress of Sept. 11 and the worry that there will be other attacks.

So what do we do? Sit around and flare? Nope! Here are some tips to get all of us, including the chronically ill, out of that added pain and back into life.

Take a fast from the television

You may feel guilty about turning it off when others are suffering, but right now it's vital to get control over your own body or you aren't going to be able to move forward. Many of those of us with chronic illness already have the television on too long, even if it's just to have some noise in a lonely house. Peter Jennings isn't going to mind if you hit 'off' and put on some inspirational music that will help you relax and focus on other things. If you need something to watch, flip to the old cable channels and catch a flick of 'I Love Lucy' or 'Breakfast at Tiffany's.' There's some sweet innocent in these old shows that take us back to some simpler times and calm us down.

Become Your Own Life Coach

Imagine for a moment that you are sitting behind a desk with a big certificate on the wall that says 'Personal Life Coach.' Your job is to look at people's lives and point them in the right direction; review their habits, good and bad and point out wise choices, such as eating healthier and sleeping longer. Are you comfy in that big chair? Good. Now imagine that you have all the credentials you need and all the time in the world because you have decided this year to focus on just one client. And that client is YOU! You have just walked in and sat down across from yourself for a review on your life.

We aren't always objective when we casually look at our life. We give ourselves excuses ('but I like chocolate cake for breakfast--and it has eggs in it!') We cut ourselves some slack ('oh, don't worry about missing that last dose. It won't really hurt you..') Imagine that you are the coach and your entire career is wrapped up in helping this client. Be a good client.

Step Outside Yourself

In the wake of the attacks on America a lot of us chronically ill people thought, 'how can I help? I can't afford to send even one dollar, I'm not allowed to give blood. Can I make a difference?' Of course you can!

This morning on the news I saw a neighborhood that came to together to paint an elderly woman's home. One woman painter said, 'It was really hard to get up early on a Saturday morning, but once I got here and started talking to other people, it felt really good.' We may live with illness, but guess what? Healthy people still think it's hard to get out of bed some days too! It's all in the attitude.

Sit down and write out what you love to do, what your strengths are, what you have a passion for. Volunteer work doesn't have to be physical. My non-profit organization exists because over the last four years over 500 people with chronic illnesses have stepped forward and said, 'I cant do a lot, but I can do something. How can I help?' Collectively they have volunteered over 20,000 hours.

Search Your Faith

The world can be a scary place. Frankly, it's going to be scarier than usual for us Americans for a while. Search your faith. What makes sense? Spa baths, hot tea, chocolates and bunny slippers may get you through some rough times, but we all come to a place where we need more than Body Works and Ghirardelli. If it's been awhile since you've been to church, go. You may find the peace that you're searching for and you may not need those extra anti-inflammatories that you called your doctor for last week along with a large percentage of other chronically ill people.

© Lisa Copen

Lisa Copen is the director & founder of Rest Ministries, Inc. a nonprofit organization that serves people who live with chronic illness or pain. Lisa lives with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromaylgia. Visit the author's web site at