The term “chronic” is used to describe a long-term illness. A chronic illness cannot be prevented by a vaccine, completely cured and can require lifelong treatment and management. It does not go away on its own and often is an additional stress in someone’s life that forces them to change the way they live.
Every chronic illness has different symptoms, treatment, specialists, and variables. The overall point of this post is to put chronic illness into context to give some meaning behind what it is.
Here are some chronic illnesses:
- ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease)
- Eating Disorders
- Heart Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Lyme Disease
- Chron’s Disease
This is not a complete list in any way, but it can show the variety of chronic illnesses. They can vary greatly, and even be something someone close to you is struggling with. Some are more common than others, but nonetheless, they are all an illness.
What’s the difference between a chronic illness and the flu?
While the flu may last a few days for most people, a chronic illness will never go away. When someone gets the flu they can expect to be sick for just a short while, and when they take medicine to feel better they generally do. Whereas a person with chronic illness never expects to fully get better, and when they take medicine and/or receive treatments it only helps their symptoms become tolerable. They may never get full relief from their symptoms.
Without chronic illness:
Bill woke up a lot last night so he’s very tired today. He decides to take a quick nap to help. When he wakes up he feels less tired.
With chronic illness:
Joe woke up a lot last night because of his chronic pain. Despite sleeping until noon that day he still has to take a nap. The nap doesn’t help, and Joe is still tired and in pain despite taking his medications.
How do people with chronic illness cope?
There are so many ways people deal with stress. One thing to note is that those with chronic illness often have little emotional support from those around them. It is very difficult for people to understand that despite them looking “well” that day, they are still sick.
For those with chronic illness, help comes in many forms. It can be anything from counseling and support groups to short-term goals to exercise some control over their situation.
When living with an illness that can suddenly turn into an emergency life-threatening situation it can be difficult for them to maintain confidence in every situation. On the other hand, those who know exactly how they will react to a situation also have that same issue.
Know that the limits they set for themselves are probably for their own benefit. For example; they may have just been diagnosed with photosensitive epilepsy. Even though a couple of years ago they could attend large concerts and go to clubs, they no longer can if they know that the flashing lights will induce a seizure.
How can I help?
First, it is important to be there for emotional support. Having someone who can be there emotionally can help them with social isolation. Coping with new effects of their illness can cause someone to isolate themselves easily. Whether it is from lifestyle changes or their social groups’ lack of understanding it is easy to become closed off.
It is never ok to compare their illness with a different one. The go-to line many say is “At least it’s not ___”. It may be well-intentioned but it is damaging. Brushing off their illness, and symptoms and making it seem “not that bad” can add to a larger problem of coping with what is happening to them. It can make them feel as if their pain, no matter what it is, will never be valid in others eyes.
Just ask. The simpliest way to be of help can be asking about their specific needs and wants.
The demands of chronic illness.
It is a long-term problem with few options. The stress of living with the physical and mental effects of the illness can be incredibly difficult. With chronic illness comes having to deal with treatments, mainating clear communication with doctors, coping with maintaing an emoitonal balance. Wether it is new to a person or something they’ve been living with for years, the stressors remain the same.
There is a loss of independence many have to come to terms with. This could mean they can no longer work, go to school, drive, bathe alone and many other things we take for granted in everyday life.
If you want to reach out and need a first step; ask first, and take it from there.