Living with a chronic illness is incredibly challenging. It effects every aspect of your life. Physical illness alters your mental and emotional well-being. Whether you’re newly diagnosed or have been living with chronic pain for years, therapy can be a powerful tool in managing the physical, emotional, and psychological impact and help improve your quality of life. It can transform the way you cope with your illness, provide a groundwork for emotional resilience and improve your daily functioning.

Coping with a chronic illness is very difficult?

When you have an acute illness, it tends to be specific and you know that you will feel better and be back to normal within a short period of time. This isn’t true with a chronic illness. It may never go away, and it disrupts your life in many ways. Sometimes, the unknown nature or extent of a chronic illness is the most challenging part to deal with.

Grief is a reaction to change.

There is often the experience of grief with a chronic illness. And what is illness, if not a change in how our body operates and the way we are able to move about the world? Therapy can help process the big and small losses that you are experiencing

Some effects of a chronic illness…

Chronic illnesses have disease-specific symptoms, but may also bring invisible symptoms like pain, fatigue and mood fluctuations. Pain and fatigue may become a frequent part of your day. Along with your illness, you are likely to have certain things you have to do to take care of yourself, like take medicine or do exercises. Keeping up with your health management tasks is stressful.

Physical changes from a disease may affect your appearance. These changes can turn a positive self-image into a poor one. When you don’t feel good about yourself, you may withdraw from friends and social activities. Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety are common complaints of people with chronic conditions, but they are treatable.

Chronic illness can also influence your ability to work. You might have to change the way you work to cope with morning stiffness, decreased range of motion and other physical limitations. You might need to ask for help from your spouse, a relative, or a friend. As your life changes, you may feel a loss of control, anxiety or uncertainty about the future.

Increased stress can shape your feelings about life. Long periods of stress can lead to frustration, anger, hopelessness, and, at times, depression. This can happen not only to you, but also to your family members. They’re also influenced by the chronic health problems of a loved one.

Many chronically ill people feel it is unacceptable to talk about their health with most people (i.e., loved ones, employers, friends, and even previous therapists). 

Therapy can help you to cope with the stress of chronic illness.

Some sources of stress that you may experience with chronic illness, include:

  • Uncertainty about the future.
  • Unpredictability of the disease.
  • Disability or the fear of it.
  • Loss of Independence.                  

Some Symptoms of Stress include:

    • Irritability and difficulty in relationships.
    • Anxiety, tension, sadness.
    • Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed.
    • Disturbed sleep.
    • Fatigue.
    • Body aches and pains, including headaches.
    • Cognitive issues.

How Therapy Can Help:  

    •  Therapy offers you a safe place to talk about your health and the feelings you have about it.
    • Therapy offers you the reassurance that you do not have to be alone with your feelings.
    • Therapy offers validation for your lived experience and thoughts surrounding it.
    • Therapy can help identify your priorities and what you value most in life.
    • Therapy offers you a place to talk about the things that no one wants to talk about.
    • Therapy offers you a place where you can have conversations about what brings you meaning or what allows you to feel your best. This can help guide your decisions for the future about treatment or how you spend your time.

Illness can be an isolating reality and your thoughts can go to new realms. In therapy, we can hold a space for the new and uncomfortable things that you think and feel when living with illness.

Therapy can help by providing skills in:

  • Learning how to ask for help. Certainly, for most people, asking for help can be a hard thing to do. In therapy, you can prioritize the areas in which you want to focus energies and clearly define the supports that are available. You can practice asking for help.
  • Establishing boundaries. Illness is inherently exhausting – the physical, the social considerations, the thinking and re-thinking. Establishing boundaries with ourselves and others is critical to maximizing mental and physical health. Therapy can simultaneously highlight the things that energize and deplete your energy. It can help you identify and set needed boundaries to protect your health: people and conversations to limit, the chores you won’t do, the labels you won’t assign to yourself, the activities you won’t engage in, etc.
  • Focusing on what you can doAs illness unfolds, it may seem like your list of “cant’s” is much greater than your list of “cans” – diet restrictions, activities to avoid, and so on. Your therapist will hold space for the grief of losing valued parts of yourself, coping with what’s changed and help you highlight the things you can do, with or without adjustment.

Making the decision to seek therapy and asking for help in dealing with a chronic illness can be a life changing experience. Therapy in the midst of chronic illness can lead to amazing and deep transitions. It leads people to resolve long standing resentments and difficult life events. Many people experience deep spiritual and emotional transformations. Lind Butler, MEd, LPC has extensive experience and expertise in working with individuals dealing with chronic illness and the grief associated with it.