How to Deal with Chronic Illness or Injury and Depression
Posted Nov 21 2012 11:30am
We have all been sick throughout our lives – with the cold, flu, headache or maybe even stitches or a broken bone. There are some of us who are injured or extremely ill and require surgery to correct or ease the problem, which can result in an even longer and wearisome recovery. And, if an illness is recurring, it can become even more frustrating.
Many of us at one time another will experience a serious illness or injury and some of us will even be faced with a lifelong or chronic illness. Diagnoses and treatment can, in some cases, drastically change the way an individual thinks, feels, acts, reacts, and processes information. Some diseases can even affect memory, vision, hearing, speech or mood. Physical sickness can have disastrous psychological complications, further exasperating the physical concerns, which is not helpful for a person’s state of mind, thus creating a relentless cycle of pain, depression and anger.
Illness can lead to depression and anxiety for many reasons such as being in intense or constant pain; or if your illness is life threatening and stops you from doing the things you love. If you have other stressors occurring simultaneously in your life such as a death, divorce or unemployment combined with a serious illness, the emotional toll can be devastating. It is important to have friends and family to talk to and not isolate yourself from the people you love.
Living with chronic illness is difficult. It affects nearly every aspect of your life and anxiety and depression often set in when you feel like you are losing control of your health – it seems hopeless because sometimes there is nothing you can do to change the hand you have been dealt. You just have to play it, which can be disheartening if you are not feeling anywhere near your best and are struggling with day to day activities. However, life with a chronic illness does not have to be hopeless.
Here’s how to cope.
No matter what you do, be informed, become an expert regarding your own condition. The more you know about your condition, the better equipped you’ll be to understand what’s happening and why. Question your health care professionals and ask them for additional information, materials or resources to stay informed. Be cautious when accessing information on the website, know your sources and always run new ideas and treatment plans past your doctors. Remember, knowledge is power.
My Advice: I have been reading everything I can get my hands on and asking a lot of questions of my doctors. I ask every doctor I see about each diagnosis I am facing, just to get whatever new nugget of information I can. I also ask my doctors for any handouts or resources they may have and surprisingly, most of them do have materials for me. I do find a lot of information online, but as with anything, I research my sources and take any information that is not official or well-documented, with a grain of salt.
Be an advocate for yourself. Don’t leave everything to your doctors – ask them what you need to do take care of yourself and then do it. Listen to your body and keep track of any changes or abnormalities. Keep in constant contact with your doctor regarding any new or different symptoms you may be experiencing.
My Advice: I call my Hematologist on a weekly basis, especially if there are any changes in my body or how I am feeling. I also keep several different logs or journals with notes about my health, feelings, weight, blood pressure and medication changes.
Build a team and coordinate your care. Keep in mind that doctors don’t always have all the answers. Seek out experts in the field – either in person or in print – and use alternative resources such as nurses, nutritionists and physical therapists – you may not always need to go to the doctor to get clarification on something. Furthermore, your doctors and specialists may not always communicate with one another regarding your condition. Have a chief doctor (such as a primary care physician) who can monitor your overall health, course of treatment and keep the others regularly informed.
My Advice: I also write down pertinent information from my appointments. It helps me keep track of what is going on medically because inevitably, a doctor will ask me what a different doctor said and I won’t remember. I have found nurses and physician assistants have offered very valuable advice and feedback when I cannot get directly in touch with my doctor.
Make sure you are taking care of yourself. Part of the treatment for almost any chronic condition involves lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, losing weight, exercising more and eating healthy foods. Although these steps are sometimes relegated to the back burner, they shouldn’t be. Patients who make these changes often start to feel better quicker and may even gain benefits such as a reduction in pain or a longer life. If you are feeling overwhelmed by making lifestyle changes while managing what may be a new and scary diagnosis, make one change at a time. It takes thirty days for an action to become a habit. Keep working at it until healthy lifestyle changes become yours!
My Advice: Prior to getting sick, I lived a very active life, which involved running four to five days a week and eating whole, natural, nutritious foods. That all fell by the wayside as I focused on recovery, and I am now trying to get healthy again. It took me most of my adult life to get un-healthy – over a year to return to healthy – and I have to keep in mind that it will take some time to return to healthy again. Right now, I am focusing on drinking enough water everyday, not overeating, getting enough sleep and taking a walk when I can. I know as I work towards my previously active lifestyle, it will great help me feel better.
Get your family and friends involved. Instead of managing your illness alone, ask the people you already spend the most time with to join you. For some illness such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, simple lifestyle changes such as exercising more and eating right will be beneficial not only for you, but for your loved ones too.
My Advice: I would not be able to handle anything that has happened since I became ill if not for my friends and family! I cannot imagine facing a serious illness alone and if you are, please reach out to people in your life for support. My running friends have been more than supportive of me and I enjoy walking with my fellow coaches when I can. It feels good to exercise together.
Manage your medications and seek assistance if you need to. Remembering to take just one pill a day can be a challenge – taking multiple medications can be overwhelming to say the least. Know what drugs you are taking and why. Take a few extra minutes to read the prescription packets and talk with your doctor, nurse, or a pharmacist to put medication management into perspective.
My Advice: Utilize your pharmacist – they know a lot! My pharmacist has answered numerous questions I have had about my medications and has also gone above and beyond to help me get what I need, including life-saving medication during a nationwide shortage. I keep detailed notes about what I need to take, when and have a checklist to remember what I have taken or not taken. If you don’t know or don’t remember, ask your pharmacist, doctor or nurse for clarification because that is what they are there for.
Know yourself and know if you are facing depression. Feelings of sadness, despair, anxiety and restlessness are not at all uncommon when facing a difficult illness. In addition, your doctor may not be well equipped to handle any psychological needs that arise. Be sure to seek professional help if you are feeling hopeless or like harming yourself or others. Find support groups – either in your area or online – to connect with others who are experiencing the same things as you. If your illness permits, keep doing the things that bring you happiness. You could also keep a journal to record your feelings and thoughts as an outlet for what you may be experiencing.
My Advice: Don’t be afraid to admit if you are struggling – it does not mean you are not a strong person or can’t handle what has happened to you. Dealing with a chronic illness is difficult and will push you to your limits. Try not to isolate yourself. Let others know what how you are feeling. Sometimes even just chatting with a friend over coffee, lunch or dinner can make all the difference in the world. I even joined an online support group for pulmonary embolism survivors and it just helps to be able to read about or discuss experiences that are similar to my own. I don’t feel so alone. If your depression is continuous or gets progressively worse, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. It doesn’t have to be permanent, but can help you through a rough patch.
Facing a long-term or chronic illness can be devastating not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. Make sure you are taking care of your body and mind to get the most out of your recovery and find joy and peace in your life.