True Grit: Living, Not Just Surviving, with Chronic Conditions Print

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By Sherry Saturno, Executive Director, Gramatan Village

Sep. 18, 2019:  Chronic conditions like diabetes, COPD, heart disease, anxiety, and multiple sclerosis (among others) require ongoing medical treatment and challenges. It's so easy to feel overwhelmed and depressed, and that can take a real toll on relationships and careers.

It is natural--and difficult!--to battle feelings of self-pity and resentment when you first learn of a chronic condition. Life undeniably becomes more complicated when you are living with a chronic disease. The good news is that there are still many things you can do to enjoy life.

Mental tools

  • Move toward acceptance; stop thinking, "Why me?" and think, "What can I do now to work with the new normal of my condition?"
  • Empower yourself by learning as much as you can about your diagnosis.  That can help change your mindset as frustration and anger give way to making new life adjustments...and give yourself time. Look for online tools and apps that can help you monitor, track, or adjust medications, diet, or other metrics as needed.
  • Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t. Love to read but no longer can? Listen to audiobooks and you can still participate in your favorite book club.
  • Adjust your expectations and activities. This is part of embracing your new normal. A person newly diagnosed with diabetes will have to monitor his or her blood sugar and maintain a healthy diet...but that does not have to stop you from still enjoying food.
  • Examine your motivation: What is driving you? Spending time with loved ones? Volunteer work? Seize upon your motivation and use it as a purpose to see past your pain.

Practical steps

  • Be action oriented: Take small steps. It’s not easy to make a major life adjustment. Consider joining a support group or an online community. 
  • Practice PMA: Positive mental attitude can change everything. No one’s life is perfect, but you are here and grateful to be alive. Reflect upon the good in your life.
  • Maintain an attitude of gratitude--keep a gratitude journal. Learn to really savor simple everyday pleasures. Chat with a friend and be fully present in the moment.
  • Consider what brings you joy and seek it out. If you love walking but now use a walker or a cane, you are still moving forward. Don’t give up--create more of what you crave.

Social life

  • Don't take a pleasantry like "How are you?" as an invitation to a long recitation of your condition. Find a safe and compassionate listener or two (a therapist or someone in a support group) so those closest to you are not overwhelmed by your status reports on an ongoing basis.
  • Shift from complaining to accepting who you are now: View it with interest, not disdain. Don’t talk nonstop about your maladies.
  • Fight it with humor, humility, and determination: Laughter is the best medicine. It’s okay to see the humor in your condition; as a matter of fact, it’s essential.
  • Do not let others’ insensitivity bring you down: They don’t know what it is like to walk in your shoes and may express impatience and a lack of empathy. That is their ignorance, not yours.

Don’t let a chronic condition stop you from leading your best life. Happiness takes work. We have to choose happiness and fight for it. Our physical limitations and medical conditions limit what we can’t do, but we focus on what we can do. Embrace your new reality and don’t look back. All of us have scars, seen and unseen. They make us who we are. But it’s what you do with them that counts.

Pictured here:  Sherry Saturno.

Photo courtesy Gramatan Village

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