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Managing Chronic Illness

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Managing Chronic Illness


Living with any chronic illness is never easy. Not only are there physical struggles, but there is also a tremendous emotional burden that is generally ignored by doctors. Apart from psychiatrists, therapists, and chronic pain doctors, most physicians don’t discuss the emotional ramifications of coping with a life-changing illness on a day-to-day basis. Unfortunately, if patients wait for their healthcare system to address their emotional suffering, they will likely experience severe distress before a physician notices it.

Mental Health Care Is Not Built-In To Chronic Disease Treatment

Sometimes even discussing emotional hardship with your physician is intimidating. This author once tried to convey to my rheumatologist the anxiety I was feeling due to my ankylosing spondylitis. My physician looked me in the face and said, “this is a physical disease. It affects your spine and joints but does not affect your mood.” This was after a conversation in which we discussed the possibility of me ending up in a wheelchair. The fact that such a future left me an anxious wreck was utterly lost on my doctor. While he was an excellent rheumatologist, who controlled my disease, he had no understanding of the emotional turmoil the disease was inflicting. Sadly (and perhaps unfathomably), many patients experience this disconnect with their physicians. Many doctors seem to think mental health is separate from physical health. Maybe this is because most rheumatologists and gastroenterologists do not have any of the diseases they treat. Although they have extensive knowledge of the human body and the conditions they diagnose and treat, they have no first-hand experience with the emotional devastation of chronic disease.

That is why it’s best to grab the bull by the horns and develop self-care systems and routines. If you wait for your doctor to tell you what to do to feel better emotionally, you may not receive the help you need until you’ve declined to the point of being hospitalized for suicidal ideation. Only then does our healthcare system address the overwhelming emotional burden of chronic illness. That scenario is in no one’s best interest, especially not the patients’. It is, unfortunately, common for people experiencing chronic health conditions to consider suicide. If you find yourself in this state of mind, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free skilled counseling 24/7 at  1-800-273-TALK (8255). 

Choose Your Mental Health

Perhaps the most critical advice for anyone who has a chronic illness and is suffering emotionally is to stop allowing yourself to wallow in sorrow. This may sound harsh, but it’s the difference between isolating yourself in your sadness, losing any joy that could find you, and choosing things that can lift you out of your misery. Sometimes, one needs to cry or mourn stuff they can no longer do. However, there’s a vast difference between allowing oneself to feel things appropriately and spiraling down into a dark pit of despair. It is up to each individual to stop that downward spiral and pull themselves out of the darkness. Even the best mental health professionals and medications humankind offers cannot do that for a person. It’s not easy and a choice that must be made continually, possibly even daily. Finding support and motivation is the key to this.

Seeking Therapy

Support can come from many origins. Perhaps the most important kind of support is a decent mental health professional. Although many people oppose therapy and mental health medications, patients must decide if their happiness is worth examining those prejudices. Therapy doesn’t necessarily mean “talking about your feelings.” There is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which focuses on helping you become aware of negative thought processes and developing new coping and problem-solving skills. You must ask yourself if you would somewhat be devastated, unhappy, and anxious or find a nice therapist and consider taking medication to help you feel better. In short, you must be willing to fight to be happy.

Taking Medication

Understandably, the last thing anyone who has been diagnosed with a chronic illness wants to do is take more medication. However, it’s essential to accept that if you have a chronic illness, you’re not a “normal” healthy person. You never will be again. Mental health services exist precisely for people in this situation, to provide them with the best possible life they can have for as long as possible. You can stay in bed with the curtains drawn and the room dark and ponder how terrifying the future is, but you will have no joy in your life if you do that. Everyone else’s lives will go on without you, and yours will continue, but it will be narrowed down so that you only notice the lack of happiness. After a while, one must wonder if there’s any point in living a life like that. However, no one dies from lying down to die. You can hide away and wish you weren’t alive, but you’re still going to be alive. So, the question is, will you end your life or choose to have whatever happiness you can have? Indeed, any amount of happiness would be better than death. Dead people don’t feel anything, including joy, so you won’t feel better if you die. Besides, you can always die. It’s an option for as long as you are alive. Why not see if there is a way to feel better while alive? And if taking a pill and talking to a nice person every week can help you feel happier, why would you choose death instead? Don’t your loved ones deserve for you to try every available option? Wouldn’t you take it if your rheumatologist or gastroenterologist had a pill that could significantly reduce your pain and improve your quality of life? Sometimes choosing mental health comes down to deciding not to live your life in misery anymore. Antidepressants save untold numbers of lives every year. They have certainly saved this author’s life more than once. There is literally nothing to lose in trying them. Death will still be an option tomorrow, next week, and even next year, so why not try some antidepressants first and see if you may stop feeling like dying?

Antidepressants Can Help Treat Pain

The other fabulous thing about antidepressants is that some can also modulate pain in the body. Specifically, tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline and nortriptyline, and Venlafaxine can also provide this effect. These medications are becoming commonplace prescriptions for chronic pain management. Request a referral to a chronic pain specialist to find out if these medications can help you. If you see a mental health provider, you can ask to try these medications and/or replace existing prescriptions.

Preventing Drug Interactions

It is essential to make sure that you do not have more than one doctor prescribing your antidepressants. If you see a mental health provider who prescribes antidepressants and a pain specialist who also wants to prescribe antidepressants, you need to complete a release of information form for both doctors so that they can talk to each other about your care plan. Not only is it best to be on the least amount of medication necessary, but it can also be dangerous to take multiple kinds of antidepressants. Many antidepressants affect how your body absorbs serotonin, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes moods and affects your overall well-being. The wrong combination of medications can cause too much serotonin to build up in the body, leading to serious emotional and physical discomfort. Some pain and migraine medications can also affect serotonin levels, so getting them through the same pharmacy is best. This ensures a pharmacist is reviewing your medications to look for interactions. You should always take an up-to-date, printed list of every medication you take to every doctor’s appointment. Have staff make a copy for your records and show your doctor the list. If they want to add a medication, request they go over the list with you then and there and check for interactions. Occasionally doctors make mistakes, and safety systems fail. If you are diligent about your safety, you can minimize any risks to yourself.

Watch the YouTube video below to learn how a 6-week program teaches patients to manage their chronic illness symptoms.

Northern California Personal Injury Lawyer

If you struggle with chronic illness due to sustaining injuries in an auto accident, call our law firm at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly case advice.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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