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How Do You Build Resilience for Life With Chronic Illness?

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My psychologist thinks I have resilience. I was a little amazed. I sometimes feel so very, very down. It is not how I would have described myself since chronic illness came into my life.

This set me thinking about what leads to resilience.

I try to keep all activities scheduled for the mornings. I am too tired by the afternoon. Those whom I see during that morning time usually see me dressed nicely, laughing and enjoying myself. They don’t see that when I get home I have to spend the afternoon exhausted and lying on my bed – and probably the next day too. So, I make an effort to participate and enjoy company or outings when I can. Is this a part of being resilient?

So, what is it that characterizes resilience? It’s the “bounce-back-edness” that enables me to keep going most days. I think this comes from knowing I am loved by family and close friends and that they really care about me. They accept how I am and how I will cancel at the last minute if I am unwell, and they have taken the time to gain some understanding of my illness.

Another factor is that I have some special people in my life with whom I can truly communicate. Being able to be listened to and have my thoughts, emotions and fears heard by those close friends is special. Sometimes I want to vent. Sometimes I want to just talk. Illness can be isolating, but having special friends who share my life and also share theirs with me is important for resilience. So talking and listening are part of resilience for me.

Belonging also helps to build my resilience. Belonging where we live. Belonging in my friendship groups, belonging in my family and belonging in other groups is part of being resilient. And connecting too. I can’t get through this on my own.

Humor is another aspect! I can laugh at some of the weird things that happen. Laughing is good for the soul. Sharing these silly moments builds trust and closeness with those I love and care about. Another aspect of resilience.

It has also been important to establish some goals for myself. My chronic illness has changed my life considerably but I still have things I want to do and achieve. A reason in my life. I want to be able to swim a long distance again, at least two kilometers. I want to be able to ride my tricycle bike up the hill so I can reach the beach. My goals aren’t very fancy or grandiose. But they are achievable, even if they will take time and some forward and some backward steps, especially with the swimming. Gone is the goal of traveling overseas, but that is OK. I need more easily achieved and realistic goals.

Lastly, being able to appreciate what I have rather than dwelling on what other “not sick” people have and can do contributes to my resilience. And, enjoying the little things.

Maybe the psychologist is correct. Maybe I do have the things in my life that mean I have resilience.

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Thinkstock photo via Alvinge.

Originally published: May 8, 2017
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