Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Coping With Chronic Illness

Chronic Illness is a term used to describe persistent and enduring bouts of illness. These disorders can be of a medical and physical nature as well as mental. Anemia, Bipolar Disorder, Colitis, Depression, Eczema, & Fibromyalgia are just a few that begin the Chronic Illness alphabet. Though there are many more, they are too numerous to list here.

Living with a chronic illness presents a myriad of issues. Most notably that both mind and body take the hit on a regular basis when an enduring illness presses on life. One's family, social and love life can be challenged as can work and school life. For tips on coping with Chronic Illness go to the American Psychological Association or visit Health Central for an interview I did a few weeks back.

I know about Chronic Illness professionally as I've worked with many children and adults who've had to live with such conditions. And I know about this subject from a personal slant. Hypertension, Arthritis and Depression keep me company. But I've learned to manage them and their fallout pretty well. My chocolate addiction, however, needs much more work.

How about you?


Deb said...

I go through bouts of depressive episodes, but my doctor never diagnosed me other than "anxiety disorder" that trickles into depression, because of course they go hand-in-hand. I diagnose myself as bi-polar or manic depressive because I have ups and downs - I'm "high" for a week and then it ends and for another week, I'm down in the dumps. But, my doc states (which I kinda disagree with) that the "definition" of bi-polar disorder is to be depressed for more than three weeks and high for the same amount of time.

Is this accurate?

Dr. Deb said...

Hey Deb,
Let me be as diplomatic as possible by saying "Get another professional opinion."

Go to They have some great info and resources.

Dr. Gwenn said...

Excellent and much needed post, Dr. D! I think just about everyone will have something "chronic" as they get older but some people do get hit harder than others at younger ages. I'm now battling my first chronic condition since I injured my back a year ago. I learned early that I can either let it crush me or use it as an opportunity to grow and tweak my life for the better! I may not move as fast but I sure do smell more roses now...

Dr. G

jenji said...

Fantastic post, Deb!

And a wonderful interview at the link that you provided.

I've been coping and dealing with 2 distinct conditions for just about 20 years and oh how I wish I could find a therapist/psychologist et al. in my area whose specialty was in chronic illness management.

By the way, it is simply staggering how many incompetent, out of touch, egotistical physicians are out there who only serve to further exacerbate chronic conditions through their ignorance and indifference.

There are so many individuals who have the same story when it comes to how difficult it was to find a dx (whilst weathering puzzling, painful symptoms), whether that was b/c of years of searching without answers or having dealt with what some might call downright abusive physicians.

At least I have fantastic doctors in each field of medicine for which I have conditions. So, yes I count myself lucky to have finally found a couple of physicians who are on the same page, both with me and with each other. Truly remarkable after several years of traumatic interactions.

Chronic Illness Management: I have often thought that it would make for a fantastic documentary.

Good stuff, Deb.
be well,

Lisa Marie said...

Chronic is such a negative word to me... but my chronic issues are depression, anxiety and some vitamin deficiencies. The combination of the above cause chronic problems with my muscles, mainly in my back and shoulders. Taking things a day at a time is really not all that bad, but listing things out makes it seem so much worse! Like all things, there are good days and bad days!!!

traci said...

I appreciate the reminder that depression is a chronic illness. I sometimes forget that and since I've been being particularly hard on myself recently, it is timely indeed. Peace.

Battle Weary said...

I deal with asthma, diabetes, IBS depression, and anxiety. Learning how to cope with and lesson the anxiety has made great improvements in the asthma, IBS, and depression. Training to run a marathon has made improvements in the diabetes, depression and asthma (still need my inhaler before running, but don't need it three more times during the run!). It's very clear to me how working on BOTH mind and body can make chronic illnesses much more manageable.

Xmichra said...

Anemia and Eczema plauge me. :( Generally i have both under control with diet modifications.

Depression was a bad one, and I wish i knew what happened, but I don't fall into depression like i used to, and not often. My depression for whatever reason only rears its head when dealing with my weight.

Kahless said...

At 16 I was diagnosed with Crohn's.
I am 41 now.
I guess I dont think of myself as having a chronic condition. Seen it as a label I would rather not have.

alan said...

Though my wife and I both have our chronic conditions, I hadn't considered the therapeutic aspect of talking with someone about it. Just as in so many other things, attitude is half the battle!

You've just given a lot of people help they'd have never thought of!


Wanda's Wings said...

I have both mental and physical chronic illnesses. It can be very discouraging to fight them all the time. It is also exhausting.

Vesper de Vil said...

Yes, I've struggled with eating disorders, depression, and fibromyalgia. I have an incredibly restricted diet and have to be more careful than most people. It's very frustrating, because people get frustrated with me and assume I'm not taking care of myself. Little do they know the efforts I put in to just living each day. Thank you for posting, Dr. Deb. xoxo

Rose said...

I never thought to categorize depression as a chronic illness. I guess because I see so many people becoming depressed because they are suffering from a chronic illness.

Vesper de Vil said...

Congratulations! This post has been featured on VIL's Friday Blogaround!

Dr. Deb said...

Hey Dr. Gwenn,
So true that as we age we will have some kind of chronic issue to tend to. So good for you to find the silver lining in your back pain issues.

Hi jenji,
There are many wonderful physicians out there, but as you said sometimes their are others that are ignorant or lack empathy when it comes to chronic illnesses. I remember the film with William Hurt - "The Doctor", I think is its title. He was an indifferent & narcissistic physician who finds one day that he has cancer. The movie shows what he goes through and how his life changes as a result.
I think a doc would be a fantastic thing, by the way!

Lisa Marie,
So true that with a chronic illness there are good days and bad days.

Dear Traci,
It is important to highlight that mental illness is a chronic and often enduring issue. No being hard on yourself, okay!

Battle Weary,
Managing your anxiety is so great - and yes it will have an impact on many of the chronic issues you experience. And running a marathon. Woohoo. How awesome.

I am iron deficient quite often so I can relate to the fatigue and slow healing anemia can present. And Eczema is such a persistent bugger as is depression. So hard to control it. Kudos for you for finding the balance and knowing what your triggers are.

I hear you about the label thing. You have lived a long time with Crohn's.

Dear Alan,
Sharing with someone you love or talking with someone who has similar experiences can make the daily dealings with chronic illness a little easier.

Wanda's Wings,
It can be both discouraging and exhausting as you say. So true.

Hey Vesper,
Many who can't "see" the chronic illness can be vocal in incorrect ways about things, as you say. And thanks for the blog link.

Chronic illness will certainly make a person prone to depression as you say. It is easy to overlook how depression, itself, is a chronic issue.

Awake In Rochester said...

Depression is listed as a chronic illness? Oh my, that makes me even more depressed. I suppose it could be, but I hope it can disappear forever. Where is Tom Cruse when you need him?

Speaking of depression, my latest post is on it.

I need some chocolate. ;)

ellesu said...

Amen to the chocolate addiction!

My mom had rheumatoid arthritis for most of my life. She was a trooper but I'm not sure I'm fully aware of how seeing her suffer so day after day has effected my life. I think that's one reason my emotions can seem numb at times.

Buddhist_philosopher said...

Many thanks, Dr. Deb. I've wandered over via Vesper's blog (so my thanks to her too)...

I have had depression and I know it will return if I fall into the wrong circumstances with stress, poor diet, sleep, lack of exercise, etc. For the last five years I've managed it pretty well on my own and completely (I'm happy to say) drug free. I'm glad for the drugs, paxil in my case, for when I needed them, but happier to know that I can be happy without them.

Meditation has played a key role in my 'recovery' and happiness over the years. I heartily suggest Jon Kabat-Zinn's book, "Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness" to all who deal with chronic illness.

Deb said...


I have seen more than my share of doctors and they tell me the same exact thing. The thing is: I don't appear to be "sad or happy" in sessions, because there is really nothing to be sad or happy about in these meetings with them, so they don't see "the real me". I don't get how these doctors don't pick it up.

I will visit that site you suggested.

Thank you.

Deb S. said...

Chronic illness, if not under control, can be debilitating. As for my chocolate addiction, it's under control. :-)

Id it is said...

It's not just chocolate addiction for me it's a sweet tooth that seems to get sweeter by the year!

funny girl said...

dr deb,
great post. i've got them all asthma, diabetes, hbp, depression, ptsd, bipolar...all the good stuff! chronic is my middle name.

i cope thru humor and exercise. humor because ...hey with all this crap if i didn't laugh i'd be crying all the time. i try to find something funny in everything and then share it...making me laugh and then others works.

exercise is my other greatest tool. it makes me feel strong. if i am strong then i can fight the conditions and not let them overtake me. control helps. if i lose my sense of control then i start to spiral and all hell breaks loose and one condition after another crashes merrily to the ground (it all starts with that chocolate addiction...not good for a diabetic).

obviously chronic conditions are no laughing matter...i know that. i have had some of mine most of my life. finding quality health care is essential...both mentally and physically (as well as a great chocolate store.)

so on that note, this short,fat,sneezing,wheezing, diabetic,woman with high blood pressure is going to take her bag of candy and go exercise!

Teresa Lynne said...

I've been diagnosed with Epstein Barr, CFS, and Bipolar! Chronic Illness is real and it is amazing how people react to this when they don't experience it themselves.

However, I think for the most part, a lot of us, a billion of us suffer from some sort of Chronic Illness.

birdonthewire2008 said...

Thank you! Very compassionate and important post.

Hope you don't mind, but I've added you to my blogroll.

(who has fibromyalgia and chronic pain issues)

Raine said...

I'm bi-polar and I take great care not to become stressed. My home is my sanctuary and I need it to be calm and cozy. I avoid conflict whenever possible, I realize that even fun stuff can be "stressful" and I limit the stress I attempt to put myself thru. This seems to help a great deal.

kath said...

My chocolate addiction is doing fine thanks.

You mentioned bi-polar. I think one of our students is bi-polar.. can this happen with small child?

No matter, his dx is autism. That is the dx of the decade, and it works because the spectrum is so broad. Lots of family aide available too, so why question it? bah!

depression? hmmm

anxiety? aches pains.. oh yea..

whatever.. back to the world according to ?

Take care deb!

Dr. Deb said...

Yes BIpolar can occur in children and teens.

Dreaming again said...

Dr. Deb, chocolate is an anti inflammatory ... it's great for arthritis. It's benifits to the emotions are well proven. That might not be an addiction you want to beat ..but rather control and use.

I take a bit of dark choloate every day ..and it *DOES* make a difference. If I run out, it will take a few days before I realize the reason I'm hurting sooo badly is no dark chocolate.

obviously it's not as good as the prednisone and celebrex I take for the lupus, but it DOES help!

Godwhacker said...

Living with a chronic illness is one of the most challenging things a person could ever face. The initial shock comes when you realize that everything from the time of diagnosis onward is going to be different -- life will never be the same again.

I was asked by a person in a support group, 'Why shouldn't I just kill myself now?' My answer to that question is that, 'In spite of your illness, the best days of your life can still be ahead of you.'

I know that's been true for me. I was diagnosed with advanced hiv 8 years ago. The illness has been draining and miserable to deal with. The treatments are hard too.

But in the face of all that, I've refocused myself -- connected closely with the ones I love, and directed myself to the things I believe in. The last 8 years have been the happiest in my life, and I'm looking forward to the future.

I remember that I'm sick once in a while -- usually when it's time to take my medicine. But I rarely dwell on it anymore. It's just sort of a puddle in the road -- if you want to go forward, you've got to cross it.

Deborah Serani said...

Well said, and heartfelt, my friend.

Health Psych said...

Great interview, Deb. As someone who also lives with chronic illness, I agree completely with everything you say.

Deborah Serani said...

Well, great minds DO think alike!!

Anonymous said...

I have Menieres Disease (and sometimes get BPPV as well), Intersticial Cystitis, Endometriosis, Asthma, Restless Leg Syndrome, and trichtillomania. I have fought depression and anxiety (have not found any meds that help more than they hurt for that) most of my life as well. Still, "chronic" sounds so awful! I am only forty and when I open the medicine cabinet (taking meds morning and night) it is very depressing to know that the need for those meds aren't going to go away. I try to focus on the fact that I am SO fortunate in being able to have them. Still, I feel so much older than I am. And SO tired!

Surgeon in my dreams said...

I am bipolar, and am also very nervous when I have to go anywhere other than work.

In 2003 I injured my back and have been in constant pain since.

The pain seems to be moving up a notch in the past few weeks, and normall I live with it. Last SUnday however, it was so bad I broke down and squalled. Not like me at all.

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