How to Find Happiness in Spite of Your Sickness
- How can you keep from feeling depressed when you have a chronic illness?
- How can you feel happy when you’re sick?!
- How can you keep diabetes (or high blood pressure, Celiac Disease, cancer, or other illnesses) from stealing your joy and happiness?
- Can you be truly happy when you have a chronic illness?
- How can I keep from feeling discouraged when I suddenly have to think about my health so often?
- How can you get used to having a chronic illness?
- How can I get used to checking my blood pressure daily?
- How can I get used to giving myself a shot every day?
The above are what we’d have to call very FAIR questions. From what I’ve seen, heard, and experienced, the most difficult illnesses and/or conditions to handle are those that seemingly come out of the blue. They land smack dab in the middle of your world – completely unannounced and most definitely without an invitation.
Welcomed or not, chronic illnesses and conditions become part of our lives and have little (if any) intention of leaving.
From Web MD: A chronic illness is a condition that lasts for a very long time and usually cannot be cured completely, although some illnesses can be controlled or managed through lifestyle (diet and exercise) and certain medications. Examples of chronic illnesses include diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, kidney disease, HIV/AIDS, lupus, multiple sclerosis…
Getting Used to Chronic Illness
While I named this section, “Getting Used to a Chronic Illness,” in all actuality what we’re really looking for is a way to make peace with a chronic illness. “Getting used to” something is pretty misleading. I mean, technically, how would one ever “get used to” pain or discomfort?
What we really WANT and what we really NEED is peace of mind. Peace is always better than war and when we find ourselves struggling with feelings of anger, remorse, self-pity, and frustration, we are at war with an enemy we must find a way to live with.
You may feel anger, sadness, and even a sense of being overwhelmed. You may miss how life used to be, before everything changed. I want you to know that there is nothing wrong with feeling these emotions. You aren’t wrong to not want to be sick! You aren’t wrong to wish you were free from this particular illness or condition.
You’re human after all.
If you’ve read Self Help Daily (or my food blog for that matter), you know that I recently developed a chronic condition (or, more to the point, a pre-existing condition came boiling to the surface). While I am THRILLED that I don’t have anything terminal or what we’d term “serious,” I am greatly annoyed by its presence. I’ve had to completely change how I eat and cook. For someone who has always been a very passionate cook, this felt like a kick in the gut.
Come to think of it… literally at times.
I had to completely give up gluten and wheat, which to be honest, I’m completely fine with now. The damage done to my insides, however, is something I’ll have to live with. My stomach is easily upset if I eat the wrong type of food and, thanks to the damage combined with a hiatal hernia, heartburn is a frequent, particularly unattractive guest.
The heartburn and GERD, actually, only showed up this year. Their “newness” is probably what has hit me so hard. Maybe your particular illness or condition are the same. Maybe, like me, you went YEARS without your illness – be it high blood pressure, Celiac Disease, diabetes, or any other “unattractive guest.” I think you could make a strong case for these illnesses being much harder to cope with than those we have either all of our life or for over 10 years.
Here’s an example: Asthma is an old friend of mine. I’ve had it since I was a baby, so I don’t know life without asthma. Many times, my husband or daughters will hear me wheeze before I’ve even registered the fact. A while back, I realized I was short of breath and heard wheezes coming from my chest. I simply put down the book I was reading, found my inhaler, used it, and went back to my book. I never gave the process a second thought.
The very next night, however, I felt heartburn coming on and every emotional switch in my body went on high alert.
“What the heck?”
“This is so not cool!”
“Where are those darn Tums?!”
Fortunately for my husband and cat, I didn’t have my mini meltdown out loud – all the angry questions took place inside my mind. After chewing a Tums, all was well and peace was restored in my chest and mind. Then it hit me… why did I react like this to something as simple as heartburn and yet didn’t blink an eye to an actual breathing condition?
This article actually sprang forth from that single thought. When a new illness or chronic condition springs itself on you, it is a shock. I think we tend to be in denial for a while..
- … it’s just something I ate…
- … I’m just tired…
- … must have a bug…
- …. this will pass….
Once shock and denial give in to reality, anger sets in – usually joined by sadness. You read up on your condition and realize, “Life is never going to be the same again.”
Can you get used to the new condition or illness? No. You can, however, learn to live with it and even make peace with it.
I promise. Keep reading.
A New Normal
Think back to the first time you had to start wearing contacts or glasses. Think back to when (thanks to father time) you had to give up a particular sport – or at least had to cut back on the amount of time you spent with it. Think back to when you had to make the font on your computer screen larger. Think back to when you had to stop drinking so much caffeine.
If you’re like most people, these changes are so much a part of your life right now that you can’t even remember what it was like BEFORE. Why are you so comfortable with them? They’re your normal.
Whatever chronic condition or illness you have right now is your new normal. The sooner you acknowledge it as such, the better you will feel. And here’s the real heart of the matter – no matter what condition/illness you’re up against, you MUST HAVE a positive outlook and peace of mind. Being at war in your body will only make matters worse.
You must find peace, which means accepting that which is seemingly unacceptable. Acceptance can be the most powerful step we ever take. That does not mean, in any way, that you are giving in to the illness. Heck no! It means you are making yourself remain calm and in control.
You’re basically telling it, “YOU’RE the newcomer. You’ve come into my life, but you are not my life. You are not going to rob me of any happiness, joy, or peace. What’s more, I’m going to use you to my benefit!” (More on that last thing you told your illness in a minute – but, rest assured, you meant it.)
Here’s a little checklist for taking your new guest from nemesis to normal:
- Breathe. Take deep, cleansing, healing deep breaths and do so often. When we’re under stress, we often hold our breath without realizing it. That, or we’ll take frequent shallow breaths. Either extreme puts every system in our body on high alert because they assume we’re under attack. Naturally, this only brings about more stress, anxiety, and even feelings of panic. Breathe.
- Focus on Loveliness. Forgive me for sounding like a greeting card, but sometimes a flowery word like loveliness is the only one that’ll do. Having a chronic illness or condition isn’t lovely. Heartburn, high blood pressure, chronic pain, multiple doctor’s visits, daily shots, frequent tiredness, headaches.. none of these are lovely. When you have one or more of them, however, they require a certain amount of attention. The trick is not to DWELL there. Give them the attention they require (whether it’s with medication, a nap, heating pad, ice pack, or good old fashioned hot bath), then step away. Don’t stand there staring at the wreckage, so to speak. Switch your focus to something… that’s right… lovely. For me, lovely is my family, my cats, birds, trees, animals, recipes, and flowers. For you, this may mean fishing, television, golf, or a home improvement circular! Move your mind, your eyes, and your attention from the unlovely to the lovely and be cognizant of it throughout the day.
- Do your homework. Read up on your condition or illness and find ways others are dealing with discomfort, illness, restlessness, pain, or other symptoms you’re experiencing. Do everything you can to find what works for you. It’s your life, remember, and the illness is a guest – not the other way around. Often, good old fashioned naturally “home remedies” can relieve symptoms better than anything else. Chai Tea Lattes and coffee, for example, relieve my asthma symptoms better than inhalers and they’re tastier too. Naturally, if it’s too late for one of these miracles in a mug, I go with the inhaler. Do your homework – never replace a doctor’s orders with anything you turn up, though, and if you have a serious illness, seek his/her advice at all times.
- Practice being nonchalant. The next time your illness or condition presents you with discomfort, respond with, “… well this is nothing…. it’s just _____.” Saying the words is a powerful thing. Trust me, I’ve tried it! But you have to do it each time your nemesis looks you in the eye.
- Eat a healthy diet. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables will make you feel better, inside and out. Many conditions are actually improved by simply eating a healthier diet and by getting plenty of vitamins.
- Take supplements if needed. Vitamin deficiencies are common among those with chronic illnesses. Low iron, magnesium, B vitamins, and Vitamin D can affect your mood as well as your body. Have your levels checked if you feel something is off. Getting the right amount of any of these vitamins can make a world of difference in how you feel – physically and emotionally.
- Get plenty of rest. When your body is coping with an illness or condition, it is working harder than you realize. That’s why we often feel so tired when we’re sick – our body is at work trying to heal itself. This extra work is exhausting! If you feel too tired to go to a party, say so. If you feel like turning in at 8:00, sweet dreams! You know your body better than anyone else. If it’s tired, let it rest.
Your illness/condition is your new normal. All the tears, outbursts, and sulking will not make it go away – they will only allow it to steal more from you than it already has. What’s more, emotional upheavals simply drain more of your body’s precious energy. Time it has to spend making sure your emotional state is balanced could be better spend making sure your physical state is balanced.
Deal with Emotions as they Arise
Okay. We’re accepting our new normal. We have no intention of allowing this new normal to rob us of our happiness or peace. However, there will be emotions that’ll need to be dealt with. Having emotions does not make you bad – it makes you human.
- When you feel overwhelmed by your new normal, talk it out with someone.
- When you feel frustrated by the new restrictions in your life, focus on the things this illness can’t touch. Can you still sit in the front yard and listen to songbirds? Can you can still enjoy a book by your favorite author? Can you take a nice stroll around the yard or park? Can you listen to your favorite music? Can you spend a little time reliving favorite memories? Think of as many things you CAN do and don’t spend another minute thinking about the things you can’t do.
- When you have questions, ask them.
- When you hear a small voice inside ask, “Why me?” answer with, “Oh, that’s easy. Because you’re strong enough to handle it.”
No matter what end of the spectrum your new normal is – whether it’s GERD/Heartburn, High Blood Pressure, Cancer, Diabetes, Heart Disease, or a disease I couldn’t even begin to spell… realize that it has already taken enough from you. Refuse to let it have your peace of mind or happiness.
Using Your Illness to Your Benefit!
Earlier, you put your illness in its place. You told it that it was a guest in your life and that it wasn’t going to rob you of your happiness or peace of mind. Remember? You even told it that you were going to use it to your benefit. I’m not sure you believed yourself, so I’m going to try to back up your words.
Many people, when confronted with a chronic illness or life-changing condition, find that other areas of their life are enriched. Whether you’re confronted with life and death with your “new normal” or are simply forced to alter areas of your life, make no mistake about it… you begin to appreciate life and all of its moments more. Little things pass away like a snowflake in a snowstorm. So-and-So‘s long hair… big deal. Such-and-Such‘s fifth marriage… hope this one takes! Not enough money to buy a new refrigerator… kind of like the way this one moans anyway.
Seriously. When you stare eye to eye with an illness, you gain an insight to life that others simply don’t have. You appreciate the little things others step over. You watch them fly off the handle over minute things and wonder what the fuss is.
You appreciate life and all of its moments more than ever.
Perhaps this is why so many people with chronic illnesses enjoy sweeter relationships. They don’t “pick” at people or measure their imperfections. They don’t spend time thinking of ways this or that person doesn’t quite measure up. When you appreciate life on such a huge level, you don’t take time to judge people – you use your time to love them.
Many people also use their illness to their benefit by “opening up” the world around them. They’ll take up new hobbies, learn new things, explore new places – each of which probably would not have taken place in their “old normal.”
Your new normal can bring a lot more to your world that is GOOD than you ever thought possible, but you have to let it. The more time you spend dwelling on the negative, the longer it’ll take you to get to a better place.
When you feel frustrated, sad, angry, or overwhelmed – cut yourself some slack. No one else can possibly know what it’s like for you. They would have had to lived YOUR life in the past and they would have to be living YOUR life now to know what it’s like for you. Be patient with yourself and forgive yourself when you occasionally get down. The trick is to not stay down. Get back up and keep going.
Your new normal will soon become your normal – and you know how normals are, they’re barely given a second thought. They just are.
Give yourself the time you need and the extra rest you will require. If you need a mid-day nap, take it! Don’t worry what others say or think – this is your life and you know what you need to feel your best. Stay well-rested, your body, mind, and emotions will all function better.
Also, remember that stress will creep in at times. Whether it’s extra medication, discomfort, or life restrictions, stress and anxiety will pop up from time to time. When they do, for crying out loud, don’t roll out the welcome mat! Insist that they leave immediately. Below are a few suggestions for getting rid of stress and anxiety:
- Go outdoors. Fresh air and sunshine do wonders for your mood.
- Spend time with your pet. Time spent with animals is never wasted.
- Take a walk.
- Read a book. A great Agatha Christie mystery will keep your brain cells too busy to stress.
- Watch a movie – an old western, maybe?!
- Flip through a magazine or Avon brochure. It’s all but impossible to feel stressed when looking at nail polish.
- Turn on Motown or Oldies.
- Talk to a family member or friend who always seems to lift your spirits.
- Last – but in NO way least – pray. Prayer chases stress and anxiety away and leaves peace and contentment in their place.
Great article. I’d like to add that you live each day as it comes. Don’t worry about 20 years down the line. Nobody knows who will be alive then. We only know today. So, don’t burden yourself with thoughts about the future. I’m not saying you should not plan for the future; just don’t obsess about it. Secondly, I’ve found nature to have a powerful healing effect in such moments. Take long walks around parks if your health allows it. get close to nature. You’ll find it liberating. Above all, ask God for help. He can help you through the storms of life. In Jeremiah 33 vs 3, He says we should call upon Him, He’ll show us great and mighty things that we know not of.