Dealing with Chronic Illness

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Most of us don’t fully appreciate our health until we or someone we love has an illness that is not going to go away. When that occurs, it is difficult to get beyond the question, "Why me?" People commonly work through what Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has identified as the five stages as they learn to accept a chronic condition. There are feelings of grief, powerlessness and fear. There is no fixed pattern to the stages, and many times several stages are experienced within the same time period. These are all a normal part of movement toward the final stage of acceptance. 

The Five Stages of Resolution 

  1. Denial. You are not ready to deal with the loss of your good health, so you deny the seriousness of the condition. You may make a vow to not let it concern you. Denial can include statements like, "I'm going to eat, exercise and take or not take my medications just as I please!"
  2. Anger. You're angry because "It isn't fair!" People around you seem to go on as if your problem doesn't exist. Worse yet, they tell you how to live your life. If you stay in this stage, you'll become bitter and people will begin to avoid you.
  3. Bargaining. You compromise with reality. "If I only overeat on weekends that won't be so bad." "If I give more to charity, I won't have another heart attack." Remaining in this stage may lead to false security and neglect of what's really important.
  4. Depression. Now, the problem really hits you. You cry, feel sad, lonely and isolated. You find no joy in anything and just want to give up. Sorrow can then lead to hopelessness and thoughts that nothing will ever be better.
  5. Acceptance. Fortunately, it is possible to reach a stage when you accept your illness as part of yourself. You recognize that your best chance for happiness lies in understanding your condition and your commitment to its control.

When to Seek Help 

If you find yourself stuck in any stage before acceptance, you may benefit from professional help. Find a counselor who will respect your wishes and work with you. Join a support group. Take care of yourself. You can control your illness instead of letting it control you. People with chronic illnesses often find that their condition requires that they live a more health-conscious way of life.