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Learning to Live With a Chronic Illness and Your “New Normal”

coping with chronic illness

Chronic illness and permanent disabilities are a fact of life for millions of people.

If you live with a chronic illness, or if you were suddenly and permanently disabled, you’re not alone. Chronic illness and permanent disabilities are a fact of life for millions of people.

One of the most important things you can do for yourself is also one of the hardest: accept that things are forever changed. What was your normal way of life is, sadly, possibly or probably gone forever. You need to accept your new normal, which might be easier said than done.

Guard Against Depression

Many people with chronic illnesses and permanent disabilities also experience depression. It’s not hard to see the connection between the two. A serious illness might result in the loss of mobility or independence, it might require special accommodations, or it might make doing once-enjoyable activities difficult or impossible. The more a chronic illness disrupts your life, the more likely you are to have a bout with depression. Maybe more than just a bout.

Though any illness can bring on feelings of sadness, the realities of some chronic illnesses and disabilities can trigger episodes with depression or long-term experiences with it. While many resources are available to combat depression, including therapy, lifestyle changes, and medications, developing a positive, tough mental attitude provides a good foundation for combating depression. It might even help prevent depression from getting a foothold in the first place.

Grieve

Part of acknowledging your illness or disability is acknowledging what you have lost. You are grieving and this is a hard process, but it’s an important one. Walking through grief will allow you to move on to the next stage. Not only have you lost what you had in terms of health, mobility, abilities, stamina, etc, you’ve also lost the fantasies and wishes you had for your future. You imagined goals and dreams for yourself before your illness. Those may now change.

Changed Life

As hard as it seems to do, you need to accept your new normal, your changed circumstances, and find fulfillment with the many gifts you still posses. Although your illness or disability has undeniably changed your life, it didn’t end your life. Accept your condition and move forward, not only for your own sake, but for the sake of those who care about you. However, in order to do this, it’s important that you have gone through the grief process. Acceptance is the final stage of the process.

It’s natural to deny a reality you don’t want to be a part of. You need to accept that your old normal is just that: the way it used to be. It was a past lifetime. Holding onto hopes of what could have or would have been, can set you up for failure, disappointment, and bitterness.

Fighting the acceptance of your new normal is an invitation to fall into a battle with depression. Denying your new normal, or waiting for your old normal to return, is hard on you and those around you.

Changed Relationships

A dramatic disruption in your life causes a disruption in the lives of people around you, too. That’s not anybody’s fault. The dynamics of your relationship with friends, family, and co-workers might change as part of your new normal. Some of your relationships might have been based on doing the very things you can no longer enjoy.

Regardless, it takes mutual effort to maintain relationships, often requiring you to reconnect in different ways or on different levels. Find other common bonds. It may be painful to accept that reconnecting with some people just isn’t going to work.

On the other hand, with some people, you’ll find that your relationship is actually strengthened by the trials of your illness or disability. These are the people who matter. These are the people with whom you will find fulfillment.

You may need to strengthen your skills in reaching out. Reaching out to others for support is incredibly important. You may need help with simple things such as meal preparation, running errands, or caring for your child. Or you may simply need greater connection with others. A healthy support system is crucial to your well-being. If you find it difficult to reach out because you don’t “look sick”, fear that you’re weak, or worry that you’re a burden, a discussion with a therapist can be very beneficial.

A New Normal

Your “new normal” isn’t just a list of what you can no longer do, that’s one aspect of it, but it also encompasses all the things you can NOW do, including things your old normal never left you time for. Build a new reality with what you have. You might develop new hobbies or past-times or a new vocation. You might find understanding friends in a support group.

The best therapists in the world can give you all of the support you need, but you need to accept your new normal, nobody can do that for you. Establishing your new normal might take some experimentation–it’s new after all. In time, you can do it.

In the meantime, we’re here to help. We understand the unique nature of chronic illness and how it’s different from a traditional medical diagnosis. We understand the unique challenges that come with living with a chronic illness. We’d love to partner with you to help you navigate this new stage in your life. Contact us at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online for counseling in Houston.

Becky Reiter, M.Ed., LPC, EMDR Specialist
Becky Reiter specializes in working with adults and adolescents in the areas of EMDR, trauma, anxiety, depression, grief and loss, LGBT issues and relationships issues. She is known for her skills in working with all types of anxiety - social anxiety, general worry, panic, or other types of fears.

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