Life with a chronic illness can be incredibly hard. Most of us who face chronic health issues have one thing in common: our lives do not look the way they did before we got sick. No matter the level of debilitation, the symptoms we face change the way we function.
Changes may be big or small depending on the severity of symptoms at the particular time. For some, it’s a roller coaster of symptoms that get better or worse (or both) each day.
Some people are able to be functioning members of society, while others are confined to their homes, unable to get out into the world to do things as “normal” as grocery shopping.
I’ve been in both camps. I know what it’s like to try to manage a full-time job while very ill. I also know the challenges of being unable to get out of bed for long periods of time. In both situations, my life was vastly different than it was when I was healthy. Accommodations had to be made to conserve energy and meet my needs. I was often discouraged.
So, how do we make the most of our situations?
While the future may appear bleak, and it is tempting to get frustrated by your current situation, I believe we can still seek to make the most of life. It may not be how we originally envisioned life to be, but it can still be full.
When God meets us where we are in our suffering, and we hold tightly to Him throughout hardship, we will be full of hope (Romans 5:1-5). When we choose to persevere instead of wallow in despair, we have the chance to make the most of our lives.
Here are a few practical ways to make the most of life with a chronic illness:
1) Practice gratitude
I know that it can be hard to be grateful when circumstances seem less than favorable. Being chronically ill is not something you would have imagined would happen to you, and life looks different than you’d like. But, what do you have that’s good?
Think about the things that you are able to do instead of just the things you are not able to do.
Go to God in prayer, thanking Him for all He is doing in your life.
It also helps to start a gratitude journal where you can write things you are grateful for each day. That way you can go back and look at it during times of worse physical and emotional pain.
Here are a few things I often praise God for (maybe this will help spark ideas for you):
- The way God has never left me in times of great struggle.
- My boyfriend, Jonathan – for the way he continues to love me and seeks to help me become the truest version of myself. He was my biggest advocate in getting treatment, and has helped me every step of the way.
- My doctor – finding a doctor who would treat my conditions and provide ongoing support was a huge blessing!
- My friends and church family – Those who have sought to understand what I’m going through have been incredible. They’ve prayed for me, checked in, come over to just sit and watch Netflix, brought meals, helped me move, etc. I’m so thankful for them!
- Any times when I can go out and do something – Whether it’s going for a short walk or meeting up with a friend for lunch, it’s such a joy to be able to go out. When I experience something that’s not always possible, I remember what a gift it is to be experiencing it right then.
2) Determine what you need/want most
Sometimes what we are told we need and what we actually need are not the same. I’ve found this to be especially true when it comes to treatment schedules. Trying to manage all the foods you eat, medications and supplements to take, sleep, exercise, other rest, and life responsibilities like work and family can be overwhelming. It can feel like we’re never doing what we want or what we feel we need.
While I know that having a regulated sleep schedule is important for healing, sometimes it’s just as important for me to stay up late, laughing with friends while playing a game. Some days I need the sleep while other days I need the interaction with people. It didn’t work for me to be so rigid in my treatment schedule that I couldn’t enjoy life. Only when I let myself experience life a little more did I start to see improvement in my physical symptoms.
Think about what makes you really happy. Is there something you can do right now that will help you have a better attitude going into the next few days? Think about what will boost your mood and spur you on as you keep working toward healing.
3) Go along and have fun, but use necessary accommodations
This summer, I went on the annual family camp vacation with Jonathan’s family. It’s at a church camp a few hours away and several families from our church also went. Last summer, I didn’t even try to go. But this time around, I decided that I needed to go in order to enjoy the summer a little bit.
I wasn’t able to participate in everything. Being at camp made doing my treatment protocol challenging. I spent a whole lot of time lying in bed resting, but the week was great because I was able to go and be part of it.
While I was there, I met a lady who has MS and uses a wheelchair. She also had restrictions during her time at camp, but it was neat how she also took the opportunity to go and enjoy what she could.
So, if opportunities arise, I encourage you to see if there are ways to go along even if it might make things more difficult. Be honest with people in your life about your desire to go, and see how they can help you.
I’ve gone to many events where I had to bring extra bags for my meals and treatment supplies. I’ve spent most of the ride there with the seat reclined so I could rest. Sometimes I had to strategically pick a spot to sit where I could plug in my heating pad. I don’t always stay as long as I’d like. But even with the added accommodations, I’ve found that just being able to be a part of something is totally worth it.
4) Remember that this is not the end of the story
It can be easy for me to think about the limitations I have here right now and get down about it. But, this is only one part of the journey. There will hopefully be more days of life to live, and we can’t know what the future will bring.
If you’re a believer in Christ, you have a future in Heaven (Ephesians 1:13-14). Life here on earth is only temporary. I’d encourage you to spend time reading the Bible and being in prayer to ask God to use this time of your life for good. Ask Him to show you what it means to live a full life in Him.
My free eBook, Finding Hope Through the Fog, has some practical application questions at the end of each chapter to help spur you on in your walk with God. I’d encourage you to download your free copy!
Please know that I am praying for you. I’m asking that God will help you make the most of your time while you face this season of health challenges.