Having Freedom and Independence when you have a Chronic Illness

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One of the biggest fears people have when facing a life-long chronic illness is the loss of freedom and independence. Most illnesses do require a change in lifestyle, adding or subtracting from the daily routines we’ve gotten used to, but some are more challenging and come with limitations in what we can do for ourselves.

It’s a very understandable fear with a lot of unknowns,  but every situation is unique and finding what works for you is a part of this new process.  Here are some things to keep in mind when you feel independence isn’t an option for you.

Don’t compare yourself to others

Even if you have been having symptoms for a while a diagnosis from a doctor suddenly makes things feel a lot more real. It’s natural to think that not only are you different now than you were, you are also different from a lot of other people as well. While that is true comparing yourself to others can have negative effects on your mental health. Studies have found that comparing yourself to others both downward and upward can put a negative strain on yourself and on our support systems. When you compare, you trap yourself in a box of both what you are and what you aren’t. Releasing yourself from those expectations is the first step to freedom.

Advocate for yourself

Sometimes an illness with a lot of management can make it seem like things are happening to you but not with you. A lot of times we want to defer to people who we feel know better than us or not make any decisions for fear of making the wrong one. This is especially true in the early stages of a chronic illness. It’s a lot of feeling things out and trial and error. However, when you settle into things remember that the person who knows the absolute best what is working and what is not is you. Management is a team effort and your say is very valuable.  Be aware of how certain therapies or medications affect you. If something doesn’t seem like it’s working speak up about it with your management team. Don’t be afraid to ask those questions, or even get a second opinion if you feel strongly about it. Even asking a trusted friend or family member to advocate on your behalf if you don’t have the energy to do it is a step in owning your power.

Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re not independent

This may sound strange at first. “Doesn’t asking for help make me dependent?” it does and it doesn’t. Think about it this way, let’s say your issue is chronic pain in your joints. You’re having a flare up and you need to reach something high up. You are still physically capable of getting the item yourself but with a flair up it becomes a lot harder. You may take longer to get it, the pain may get worse, you may have to get a step stool or a chair and climb up when you’re not at your most solid. And once you do get the item you may need more time to recover from the exertion before you can keep going with your original plan. There are times when this situation is unavoidable and you may have to go it alone. But if there is someone to help you to cut out all that extra exertion you’re actually making a strong choice for yourself to conserve your physical and mental resources to focus on what’s important. This keeps you from tiring yourself out and in the long run able to be more independent for the things you really want or need to do. Everyone needs help sometimes, asking for it doesn’t mean you’re not independent. It just means you’re human.

Peer Health can connect you with a personalized peer community to share provider recommendations, treatment options, and define your best life. Sign up for our beta and newsletter today.

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