How To Stay Positive in the Face of Chronic Illness

One of chronic illness and pain’s most powerful weapons is the sense of helplessness that the patient often feels in controlling their disability and discomfort. Aside from the most obvious answer of finding effective medical care, I think the most important things are to have a positive outlook, aim to feel productive, and be as comfortable as possible. These things are often within closer reach than they may have thought. Now that I’m out of the weeds myself, I’d like to share some ideas that helped me:

1) Focus on what you can do comfortably, particularly things that you enjoy

One of the most devastating parts of chronic illness and pain is the loss of ability to do some, often many, of the things in your life that you enjoy. I had to stop weightlifting, hiking, teaching yoga, and socializing. This loss lends itself to the process grieving, when it doesn’t seem like you will ever have this ability ever again. One goes through all the stages of grief: denial, guilt, bargaining, depression, discovering the silver lining, reconstruction, acceptance, and hope.

Think about a few things that you are physically and emotionally capable of doing without too much pain or dysfunction. Think about what you can do that is also meaningful and brings you joy, and write them down. Once you decide upon a few small, positive actions, develop and incorporate these into a routine schedule. Do these things every day. At my worst, I would fix myself a cup of tea and write down the highlights of my day a few words in my some lines a day journal. At moderate functionality, I would go for a walk–sometimes just to the mailbox, and sometimes up to two miles.

The idea is to set up a framework for your life that includes productive and satisfying activities. This has many positive physical and psychological benefits and, hopefully, when you look back at your day, you will feel that you have had a relatively “good day,” or at least a productive one.

2) Identify a few things that you can do yourself that make you feel better

Again, one of the most problematic parts of chronic pain and illness is loss of control over yourself and the situation. It can be deeply upsetting to feel that you are totally out of control of your body and your life, and that you are entirely dependent on others (doctors, therapists, family/friends, medications, etc.) for getting relief, or just getting though your day. For years, my legs buckled and I couldn’t walk without support. As much as I was grateful for the help, it felt shameful to need it.

Sometimes, there are very simple, cheap, and instantly effective ways to find relief from something such as pain. Some of those answers should come from your medical team, others you may discover in online forums or research journals. They may prescribe low-dose naltrexone (which changed my life) or recommend a hydrocollator. With chronic illness, answers rarely come easily, and you may have to be a bit introspective and creative. Sometimes, the answer may be as simple as taking a hot bath, writing in a journal, or talking with a friend.

Schedule those activities into your day. Don’t give up and don’t be shy in looking for help and support. While not everyone will recover fully, many people go on to have fairly comfortable, happy, productive lives, despite their chronic illness. With effective energy and pain management, we can take it one day at a time.

3) Conquer your mind

Having a chronic condition leads to a constant battle inside your mind, even if your condition is caused by a physical problem. One of the hardest things about being sick all the time with no foreseeable cure is being able to stay positive. But at some point, you have to decide to stop feeling helpless, angry, and resentful, as those feelings only make matters worse.

One of the best ways to start feeling positive is to say affirmations every single day. Affirmations are basically mantras that tell your subconscious mind what you want. For instance, you could say, “I am happy, whole, and healthy.” When you repeat these mantas often enough, your subconscious mind may begin to recognize them as truth.

It’s also helpful yo surround yourself with people who are cheerful and optimistic. If you don’t have close friends, which is true for many people with chronic conditions, choose to consume content that makes you happy, Listen to cheerful music, watch sitcoms, and read inspirational stories. Choose to be happy despite your current condition. Try to believe that things can, and will, get better.

4) Realize you are not alone

Chronic illness can be isolating, but it is your job to counter this. Talk to family and friends who are empathetic and understanding. Seek out a support group for your illness, where you can learn about others’ experiences and practical tips for function with your particular limitations.

This can prove challenging if you’re struggling to find a diagnosis. I was personally labeled a hypochondriac for several years before my labs and tests shifted from borderline bad to critically concerning. Once I had a name for my condition, I found online communities, which opened up the door for camaraderie, new knowledge, and the acute awareness that my situation could be much worse.

5) Don’t be afraid to say “no”

Chronic illness presents constant hurdles. You may find yourself facing obligations without the energy to fulfill those commitments. If you are too tired or in too much pain to attend a social event, help a friend move, or work late, it’s okay to back out or to decline from the get-go. Looking back on the early years of my illness, I over-committed and overworked myself. By saying “yes” to too many things, I failed to prioritize my health and healing, thereby worsening my condition.

Over the course of my illness, I have lost most of my friends. My career halted, and then regressed, before slowly marching forward. All of my discretionary income has gone toward medical doctors, tests, and treatments. I have said “no” to just about everything other than my own well-being, and that was the right choice. Because without good health, there is little room for relationships, professions, hobbies, and enjoyment. So, feel good about the decision when you choose to prioritize yourself over others because it may be an important step in supporting your recovery.

8 thoughts on “How To Stay Positive in the Face of Chronic Illness

      1. It’s so good…I think you could start a whole series of sharing based on your lived experiences. A pleasure to read…and I know for sure you’re helping others by doing so. Xo! 🧡

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  1. I saw myself in every part of your post – from being considered a hypochondriac early on to learning how to live with a chronic illness. And… you nailed it 100,000 percent when you talked about conquering the mind. Sort of a side note, but related – years ago, a pain doctor told me the best medicine I could take would be to get a hobby. At that point, I was doing good just to make it through the day, so I harrumphed internally. But now, I totally see what he meant. When you’re passionate about something, it’s easy to become engrossed in it, and you forget your pain. Or at the least, it’s pushed to the background a little. That was a long way of saying I’ve been there too, and so agree wholeheartedly with Vicki about you sharing. The education part is important, but also hearing from someone who’s been there and come out okay..? That has the potential to bring HOPE to those fighting a similar battle.

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    1. Thanks, Kenda! Yes, I felt so alone (and crazy!) for years, so finding others online who were sharing their similar experiences and remedies made a big difference when I was suffering. I have an overwhelming urge to forget the past and move on, but there are lessons I have learned that others could really benefit from (and the simple hope that recovery is possible), so I think I have the responsibility put some of that out into the universe with the hope that the person who needs it will stumble across it. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I goodness, do I ever understand about wanting to move on. But I also applaud you for being courageous enough to try and help others. And we’ll be here rooting for you! 🤗

        Liked by 1 person

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