Sunday, November 9, 2008
5 Ways to Surrender Frustrations of Living with Invisible Illness
By Lisa Copen
"But you look fine. Are you sure you're as feeling as bad as you say?" "You haven't really experienced chronic fatigue until you've tried to raise three children on your own!" "I think it you just got out of the house more and didn't think about it so much, it may just heal itself." "If you were serious about trying to get well, you'd at least try those vitamins I recommended. It never hurts to try."
And the remarks go on. . . and on.
And it hurts.
You may be surprised to hear that nearly 1 in 2 Americans has a chronic illness or physical condition that affects their daily life. The range of diseases and included everything from back pain to fibromyalgia, arthritis to cancer, and migraines to diabetes. Oftentimes, one of the largest emotional stumbling blocks for people who suffer from illness is the invisibility of the pain. About 96% of illness is invisible. This means that the person who suffers from the chronic condition show no outward signs of physical pain or disability, nor does he or she use an assistive device like a walker or wheelchair. But the incredible pain each day can be disabling within the confines of the home.
If you have an invisible illness here are 5 tools to help let go of some of the frustrations:
 Let go of expectations. This may be a life-long process, but you will consistently find that people will always disappoint you, as no one is perfect-including you! Remember, you don't understand the difficulties that your friends are going through, whether it's a divorce, the death of a loved one, a loss job, an ill child, etc. Your illness is significant in your life. Even when people care, they still will have significant things going on in their own lives.
 Find supportive friends. If there is someone who is constantly belittling you or doubting your illness and he is beyond listening, let go of that friendship or distant yourself from that relative. Illness has a way of helping prioritize friendships and spend our limited energies with those that mean the most to us.
 Search for blessings in your life. Make a commitment to stop dwelling on how badly you feel, and instead search for ways to bring more joy into your life, even if it's just appreciating the small things. What are you doing when you feel natural adrenaline kick in and give you extra energy? Most likely, that's where your passions are! Bring more of these into your life. And don't let your limitations stop you. For example, if you once loved to garden, now you could grow a few potted flowers or hire a neighborhood teenager to plant some vegetables and set up an automatic sprinkler system. If you want to aim high, consider starting a garden consulting business.
 Use your aptitude and talent for things you have a personal interest in. Too often we feel like the skills we learned in the workplace are no longer valuable. Perhaps you've always wanted to write children's books or be a business consultant. Get involved in your community and do some volunteer or part-time work to continue to grow professionally. Rather than focusing on what others aren't doing to comfort you, follow your dreams and give that gift of comfort to yourself.
 Encourage someone else. You personally know how hard it is to live with illness and to feel like no one understands. So take time to be vulnerable with someone else who is going through this. Whether you meet someone through an online group such as National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week's message boards, or through your local support group, volunteer your time and expertise (yes, you're an expert on living with invisible illness!) and use it to make someone else's journey easier and you'll find your own is more enjoyable too. Are you frustrated that no one at your church thinks your invisible illness is real? Rather than stop going to church, find ways to educate them, such as a column in the church newsletter or brochures about National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week. These say what to say/not to say to a chronically ill person.
None of us have the capability to force another person to change, or to make them care. But we can educate them and give gentle advice. We must also continue to work on ourselves, however, because you will find that even when you want to change it can be a real challenge. It requires discipline and motivation for a better life. You owe it to yourself to find joy despite your illness, and by focusing on how you can change your circumstances, instead of change other people, you'll be much more rewarded.