Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Every week, I speak with another client who is newly diagnosed with a chronic health condition. It’s not easy for them to hear this news. But then, if you have recently been diagnosed, or if you have been living with a chronic condition for a while, or a long while, I’m preaching to the choir. “It’s not easy” is an understatement.
Out of our discussions, questions come up regarding the future. What’s next for me as I begin traveling this road? What do I need to be doing to take care of myself? How can I go from here to where I need to be in managing my health?
My answer is always the same: Let’s work together to help you set yourself up for success.
Finding your path
What about you? Do you have the same questions as you look toward your future with your chronic condition?
Here are ideas to help you get set up for successfully managing your chronic condition:
Take care of your emotions. The most common first reaction to a medical diagnosis is shock. But sooner or later, chronic conditions bring up lots of emotions. And all those feelings have to go somewhere. Holding your emotions inside can have a negative impact on your wellness. You’ll feel better if you let yourself feel your feelings. They’re just feelings. Going forward, make it part of your routine to take an inventory of how you’re feeling.
Identify your support network. If you’re wondering what to do with all those feelings as they come up, here’s the answer: get support. Connect with the people in your life who can listen to what you have to say without judging you or trying to tell you what to do. As you disclose your diagnosis to people in your life, it will most likely be apparent to you who your supporters are going to be. So reach out to them. Talk. Cry. Laugh. Vent. Repeat.
Update your health literacy. Take responsibility for becoming an expert on your condition and its treatment. No, not overnight. One step at a time. You might ask your doctor to recommend information resources, or do some internet searching on your own. Stick with reputable, objective information sites. If you feel overwhelmed, ask someone in your support network to buddy up with you. Keeping yourself up to the second in the latest information related to your condition will be important going forward.
Create a realistic self-care plan. This is the cornerstone of your strategy for managing your health. The emphasis here is on “realistic.” Your doctor may recommend a standard self-care plan to get you started. But keep in mind that one size does not fit all. Your doctor’s initial plan is a starting point. Give it a try, see what works for you and what doesn’t. And then talk to your doctor about tailoring your self-care plan to your own needs and preferences.
Your self-care plan is a work in progress, now and in the future.
Address accountability. Your plan will only work if you follow it. If you’re newly diagnosed, your doctor probably already told you that. And if you’ve been living with a chronic condition for a while, you have probably learned this from experience. Accountability is a big factor in successfully managing your chronic condition. Commit to being accountable to yourself. You might also enlist a supportive person to help you be accountable.
Build a relationship with your healthcare team. You and your treatment team are in it together for the foreseeable future, if not for the long run. It will benefit you greatly if you make an effort to understand how your doctor works—including how to best communicate with him or her. Do the same with their staff and any other specialists you may be working with, even occasionally. Know what issues, including symptoms, your doctor wants to be kept abreast of. Be aware of the best way to get in touch, e.g. whether they are open to email or if an appointment is needed. When members of your treatment team come and go, start the get-acquainted process with the next team member and their staff.
Join a community. Since you’re here, you’re clearly already aware of the benefits of joining an online community. It’s a great place to get and give support and share information. You might also consider getting involved with your local chapter of a national association focused on your condition, like the American Diabetes Association or the American Heart Association. This would increase your access to information and provide ways to meet others with the same condition, to attend local events, and to get involved in advocacy activities. Support is power!
Know your rights. Speaking of advocacy, your success in managing your chronic condition also depends on your ability to be a strong advocate for yourself. Be aware of what you can expect from your insurance company or government healthcare provider, and know what you have to do to make sure you receive it. Be aware of any other programs or services that might be available to individuals with your condition. If you have a job, stay on top of your rights in the workplace, as well as any additional benefits your company may offer if you need them.
Make a spiritual connection. I can’t talk about setting yourself up for success without also addressing spirituality. Having a spiritual practice of some kind, whether it is an organized religion or beliefs you have embraced and practice on your own, can be a great source of strength as you cope with the ups and downs that you may experience on the road ahead. Spirituality might involve getting together with others who believe the same way. But you can also sense a Higher Power while walking in nature, or listening to music, or spending time with people you care about.
One of the lessons of living with a chronic condition is that we aren’t in control of everything. Life is random in its own way. But you do have the power to do everything you can to set yourself up for success. The power is in your hands!
What helps you manage your chronic condition successfully? Add a comment below. It might be exactly what someone else in our community needs to hear!