7 Ways to Stay Hopeful During Tough Times With Chronic Illness
I read stories on The Mighty and I am amazed by how much hope and resilience people have. Especially those of you who have severe pain as part of your illness. Your inner strength is awesome. The human spirit’s strength in the face of adversity is very evident.
Living with chronic illness rarely brings respite. Oh, how I would love a day when I didn’t have to think about diabetes and weigh up every choice about food and physical activity. And then, emotions can also send things haywire. This is where hope can be so powerful.
Hope can’t really be learned. It seems to be an inner quality. But we can help ourselves to be more hopeful.
Some of the factors that help me to hope are:
1. A sense of belonging and connectedness.
I had to move 1200 km from my family and friends to get to a climate that does not send me to the hospital every few weeks with asthma. So this belonging and connectedness has been severely challenged. When you are ill and my age, nearly 70, it becomes harder to connect with others. Belonging and connectedness means I am accepted and thus builds hope. Having accepting family members and friends is a wonderful gift that helps you to maintain hope. I have to make a deliberate effort to meet people and to connect.
I have three sons. They are in their 40s. It is difficult to stay connected with them now that I have moved away. So to keep this connection I have to make the effort to connect with them.
2. Being able to communicate honestly.
Being able to explain how I feel each day both emotionally and physically is important. If I can communicate my needs then there is a chance they will be met. Being able to write stories is a tremendous help to me too. I am grateful for this opportunity that The Mighty provides. I have always liked to write and make up poems about what is happening. It gets rid of some of the angst I sometimes feel. That too helps to build up my hope reservoirs. I have to admit I have written some weird poems such as “Dear Diarrhea,” which I wrote in response to a severe bout of IBS!
3. Being able to see the humor in situations.
A good laugh does wonders for my attitude. When I am too sick to go out, like today, a good burst of laughter helps enormously, e.g. watching videos of dogs being silly.
4. Setting goals.
My goals are different post the onset of chronic illness. But I still have them. They help me to focus on today and the future rather than the past. My goals are not grandiose. It’s a trap to set ones that are impossible to achieve. Who needs failure? It’s hard enough everyday with chronic illness! One current goal is to be able to ride my bike up the little hill so I get to the beach without having to walk my bike! Today, that goal actually feels like an impossible mountain! But, it is achievable, just not today. My hopes are still alive.
5. Living in the moment.
Then there are things you are born with; they are innate, like your personality type. I try to live “one day at a time.” And living means fully living in the now. My personality leads me to worry and to be anxious, but I am learning to calm myself with mindfulness strategies. This is the area where I need the most help from my psychologist. When I am feeling anxious, I turn away from the news and current events. There is so much horrible stuff in the world that it can be easy to succumb to despair and hopelessness.
6. Getting to know myself.
At the ancient Greek temple at Delphi, there is an inscription that reads “Know thyself.” Socrates believed this was the most valuable form of knowledge. Taking the time to get to know myself has been a valuable way to increase my hopefulness. Self-knowledge and understanding have also contributed to acceptance and happiness.
7. Being my own biggest fan!
Acknowledge the great job you are doing juggling all the things that chronic illness brings! Acknowledge and affirm this each day. Acknowledge your good characteristics, your strengths. Everyone has strengths and instead of looking and seeing your faults, try to see what is special and wonderful about yourself.
Hope is such a positive thing. Mine is linked to a deep faith but you don’t have to have faith to have hope. Hope means not giving up.
As Emily Dickinson wrote:
“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—.”
Hope never gives up. Hope never ever stops.
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Thinkstock photo via fotojog.