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17 Ways to Cope With Chronic Illness If You Don't Have a Support System

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Chronic illness blogs and websites often feature advice about talking to your loved ones about your illness, how to support a friend who has an illness, and how to keep your relationship strong when one or both partners are sick. But those articles tend to gloss over the reality that many people with chronic health conditions don’t have a large support system. After all, the stress and isolation that chronic illness can bring often makes maintaining relationships challenging, and it’s not uncommon for support networks to get smaller due to illness. What do you do when you’re living with all the physical and emotional challenges of illness and you don’t have anyone in your life who can help?

We want to support those with chronic illnesses who don’t have a large support network, so we asked our Mighty community to share their coping methods. Just because you’re tackling life with chronic illness solo doesn’t mean you don’t deserve care and happiness. Let us know your strategies for living with a chronic condition without a support system in the comments below.

Here’s what our community told us:

1. “Literally take one day at a time — some days are better than others — if it’s a bad day and you make it until the end, you’re stronger than your illness.”

2.Learn to advocate for yourself. Try to find one friend even if out of the area who is willing to stay informed and aware of what is happening. Search out agencies to assist as needed.”

3. “I am someone in this situation — no real family support or local friends to speak of, etc. I try to make the most of what small things I do have. Keeping myself distracted by focusing on hobbies or interests. Finding interests that can be done with minimal energy expenditure. A big thing for me has been trying to focus on helping others, even if just online. For me this has been the biggest reason to keep going when I’m feeling my worst.”

4. “Become a member of a church or some other community in your neighborhood and start ‘giving’ to others, so they will, in their turn, become your family and function as your support system.”

5. “That’s me. I would say go out there and find what services are available to you. I am on the Nursing Home Diversion Waiver in my state. I have a service coordinator who checks on me to make sure I have what I need. I have a home health aide to help me with personal care and housework, as well as being a friend. I would also recommend having a pet. I tell my cat all my deepest feelings about being sick.”

6. “You begin to build one. General practitioner, therapists, physio, psychologist, exercise class/group, community group, online and friends. Ensuring there is somewhere to have a voice, be a voice, keep accountability, somewhere to give out too and not just get from. I found I have times that I can be very selfish and the more selfish and inward looking I become the more I hurt, so I have found a key is to, no matter how much or little, always be giving out and looking out for others. It keeps me moving and motivated even in my worst. Just because pain/illness is invisible doesn’t mean I have to be… this is what I tell myself.”

7. “Reaching out to an online community (choose wisely). Have a few ‘hobbies’ that are workable with your illness or teach yourself something new. Even if it’s just watching a video about something you’d love to do. It’s so hard to not feel useless and unloved, but you have to be strong for yourself and fight for yourself. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for and the only one you can fall back on is yourself.”

8. “I find visiting sites like The Mighty and reading about others’ experiences very helpful. While you feel for those people, it’s a reminder that you’re not alone… A pet is a must. Having a big fuzzy cat climb up your chest and onto your shoulders while purring away instantly lifts you up and dries your tears. If/when you’re able, do the things you used to enjoy. It may not be as often as you’d like, or for as long as you’d like, but it will certainly improve your mood. And know that even those of us who have a support system get lonely.”

9. “Find something you are passionate about and capable of doing and do a little when you can. Be your strongest advocate. Being ill is hard and lonely. I try to make myself do one thing that I am capable of everyday to feel productive. And love yourself! You are worth the fight that you are fighting!”

10.I have a therapist I really trust who I’ve been with for many years and most of the time that’s my lifeline, the knot at the end of my rope. She knows I’m tired of it all, tired of feeling awful all the time, of just existing, of doing it all alone.”

11. “Try to find something that once brought you joy to do, and do it… even if it’s in a small or lessened capacity, it can do wonders to lift your spirits. For me, it’s music. I find peace in my music. The same is true for reading or even a favorite tv show. It doesn’t make the pain stop, but it helps me to be able focus on something else other than the pain.”

12. “Plan ahead to work around your consistent challenges. I always make sure to keep basics around (extra TP, wipes, Icy-Hot, heating pad, acetaminophen and a spare dose of a narcotic pain killer just in case). I try my best to lay out my clothes the night before so I have a little extra time in the morning, waking up is a real challenge. I try to deal with my everyday well-known demons head-on so I am not blindsided when something goes wrong. Not a fool-proof system but it helps to get through the day-by-day existence.”

13. “I find it helps to strive to achieve one thing (or more) per day, beyond my own care. I realize that for some this is really difficult but even the smallest act (i.e. watering one plant to keep it alive, feeding the birds or making a comment on the internet) can bring about a feeling of connectedness and well-being.”

14. “Just keep breathing. Take it one minute at a time. When things get too tough for me I try and get as comfy as I can and just concentrate on my breathing. Remember that your success rate of surviving to this point is 100 percent and if all you can do today is breathe, then that is OK.”

15. “Live in the present. Don’t worry about how bad you felt yesterday. Don’t worry about how bad you will feel tomorrow. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Live today like it is the last good day you will have. If it is the last good day you will have, you lived your life today.”

16. “Try to utilize social media. It can be a great source of support. If you feel comfortable I find it helpful to comment about my experience when I read some posts such as those on The Mighty. It feels nice validating to me knowing others go through the same things.”

17. “My friends are all states away. My boyfriend has his own chronic illness to deal with. I live in a very rural area. So I advocate for myself. I read, a lot. I use an online support group. And I talk to a therapist. I think that if we don’t have support nearby, we have to make our own. Friends at a distance are better than silence. Staying informed is better than ignorance. And therapy is better than isolation.”

What advice would you give to someone coping with chronic illness without a support system? Share in the comments below.

Originally published: May 9, 2017
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