When you’re diagnosed with a chronic illness (not to mention several chronic illnesses), you will need to change your lifestyle which means you won’t be able to do what you’ve always done—and that’s very life changing—it’s physical and emotional—it’s a sense of loss that may develop into depression if not recognized and treated.
How Do I Cope with These Changes?
Chronic illness changes the entire family because the sickness of one individual causes a ripple effect within the entire family. Everyone learns to do things differently as a result.
Here’s some tips to navigate the changing emotional and physical landscape in your family:
- Use technology to the best of your ability to keep a list of all medications. Check out apps such as My Medications App, AARP Rx, CareZone, or Medication Log. This is a short list, but depending on your phone, you can check out many free apps that can save you time by organizing medications for the whole family.
- Consider using telemedicine for doctor’s appointments. This obviously won’t work for everything, but for something that can be handled over your phone or computer to deal with a side effect, new symptom, or minor illness, it can save travel time, be more convenient for those who are doing all the caregiving, spend less time in a waiting room being “fitted in” between appointments, and more comfortable for the patient who really doesn’t want to leave home—again.
- Consider learning how to do something new due your illness as an “experiment.” It may or may not work, but you won’t know until you try. For example, do you need to increase your exercise? You really don’t have to join a gym. Got a staircase? Can you go up and down a few times? Got a mailbox at the end of your driveway? Can you walk to get the mail everyday instead of someone getting it for you? All those steps count!!
Here’s another example: Let’s say you need to change your eating habits, but everyone else in the family can eat anything they want! How do you manage this? How will you not tempted to by all the foods they can eat? Here’s an “experiment” you can try here:
Start with one meal at a time until it’s a habit. Habits take a while to really change you, but they’re definitely doable and worth improving your health! Maybe breakfast is easiest to begin, you decide. A warning here: Don’t think willpower will carry you through—it won’t. If you want a cookie, eat a half instead of the whole thing if that works for you. Deprivation never works—eventually, you’ll eat what you’ve been craving because we “always want water when the well runs dry.” Deprivation makes the thing we crave all the more powerful and wanted. “All or Nothing” behavior doesn’t work and creates lots of anxiety and sense of loss—don’t do it!
Another example is to engage a family member that wants the same thing you do—lose weight, be healthier, or has your best interest at heart. I remember a grandmother that had a wonderful relationship with a grandson that wanted to walk with her—but she didn’t want to burden him. Hogwash!! The grandson LOVED it!! They walked together every day when he got home from school!!
If you’re worried about burdening them, put the request in a different way that allows them to make a decision from several choices rather than feeling that if they say “No” you’ll be hurt and disappointed. Let’s say “Joan” is the one who makes dinner for the family. Try something like this: “Joan, I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to eat better when everyone else can eat everything they want. I was thinking we could still have dessert but maybe we could start to make the other parts of the meal healthier. What do you think?” This puts it into Joan’s lap for making a choice. Joan can still say “No” to making any changes. However, she likely cares about you and knows that mealtimes need to change. Pick one part of the meal to improve upon or change completely. How about adding a green vegetable? How about not making potatoes but having a salad instead? Joan will feel much more control of your dietary issues if she’s part of the decision making process. Everyone wins!
Big takeaway message here: Small changes make huge improvements, so keep making small changes! It’s like the rudder on the back of a boat. A very small change of direction of that rudder makes the entire boat move in a different direction! You can do that too!!