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How Psychological Flexibility Helps Me Thrive With a Chronic Illness

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I used to think of myself as a person with many titles: wife, sister-in-law, aunt and best friend before I was diagnosed with several more health issues this year. After I was told my three test results showed I have “A,” “B” and “C,” I felt more like a patient than a person. Every month I’d have blood work done, doctors’ appointments, and other testing as needed. It got to the point where I’d be tired of dealing with everything and feel like I was getting nowhere.

I really want to live the best possible life, even though there isn’t a cure for any of my conditions. Each health problem has presented itself with its own unique set of challenges. I’d experience abdominal pain or spasms due to Crohn’s, back pain due to arthritis, vertigo that would last all day, or my cognitive issues would act up from a stroke I had 16 years ago.

Since the beginning of the year, it was difficult for me to commit to anything as I could never tell how I’d be feeling n the morning, afternoon or evening. I felt as if I had no control over my days. This made me feel angry and frustrated because I felt like these chronic, incurable illnesses were taking over my entire life.

Then I started thinking back to when I had my ostomy surgery. I learned not to revolve my entire life around the appliance. There is more to living than thinking about it 24/7. I thought, what would I be achieving if I let these related issues overtake me on a daily basis? It’d get me nowhere, and I wouldn’t be able to accomplish what really mattered most to me in life.

Learning to develop psychological flexibility is critical in improving our circumstances and our well-being. It needs to be approached in a way that our lives can be meaningful through dealing with our emotions and moving through them. Recognizing when we have no control over our situation can help us stop struggling against it. When making a life-changing decision based upon where our health issues are now, we can guide our choices and behavior. If our illnesses have shown us that family matters most, for example, then our decisions would be aimed toward that.

We can learn how to be flexible with our health challenges by ceasing to struggle, accepting life for what it is, and moving forward. Our unique medical situations can teach us what truly matters in our lives and then we can focus on what we want to achieve.

To quote John Wooden, NCAA basketball coach, “Don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do.”

Getty image by Popmarleo.

Originally published: January 6, 2020
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