I’ve always enjoyed getting the most out of life. But when my Psoriatic Arthritis and other chronic conditions forced me to go on disability, life changed. I went from living a “go-go-go” existence to a calmer, slower paced lifestyle. At first, it drove me nuts. I’d scroll down my Facebook feed and see people traveling, living it up at a new restaurant, and having fun without me. I felt as if everyone else’s lives were continuing to move forward and mine was at a stand still – perhaps even moving backwards.
This took a toll on me mentally, physically and spiritually. It caused me to have anxiety attacks, something I never had experienced before. My body felt like it was breaking down due to lack of activity. And spiritually, I felt broken.
At first, my friends were sympathetic. They would visit me in the hospital and stop by my house. But as my condition started to take on the ‘chronic’ definition, they continued with their lives just as they had been. Their visits became less frequent, and I began to feel alone.
I was outraged. How could my friends leave me like that? Didn’t they realize what I was going through? Becoming bitter, angry and depressed, I retreated. It was at that point I turned to Twitter and began meeting people just like me. These people had similar problems when it came to their social lives: friends who didn’t understand, having to cancel plans, and dealing with life at a standstill when others were out having fun. I didn’t feel so alone anymore.
Eventually with the support of my new community, I learned to become more mindful and accepting of my situation. I also found the following five tips helped me balance having a social life with chronic illness:
Tip 1: Your diagnosis doesn’t change who you are.
For a while, I hated leaving my house and talking to people. The worst was when a new acquaintance would ask the dreaded questions, “What do you do for a living?” or “Where do you live?” These would make me sweat from every place on my body. For a long time, I had no idea how to answer. I always gave a disclaimer, such as: “Well, I’ve lived in a bunch of places! I used to travel for work, and I’ve lived in a bunch of places, but right now my health is requiring me to be at my parents’ house.” I always had to qualify with what I used to do or where I used to live. I felt “less than.” I felt like I wasn’t the same person as before. And, I felt like people wouldn’t take me as seriously as they did when I had a high-powered, corporate job.
But guess what, that’s not the case. My diagnosis may have changed my career, my location and my routine, but it hadn’t changed me. My physical body may have some health issues to work out, but those physical issues don’t define me.
Accepting this and moving forward can be a challenging task, but the sooner you start realizing you’re still the same amazing person you were pre-diagnosis, the sooner you will start being happier.
Tip 2: Live in the present.
Gratefulness and appreciation for the little things can help change your perspective for the better. Don’t be upset that you can’t do X, Y, and Z. Be excited and appreciative that you can do A, B and C. Live in the present moment, appreciate what you have, and you’ll find solace and happiness in the everyday moments.
It can take time to shift our mindset from focusing on the negatives and challenges, to one that focuses on the positives. But when you put in the work to make that shift, you will see big changes.
Tip 3: You can’t expect others to understand what you’re going through.
There was a time when I was mad people weren’t giving me the support I needed or reaching out as much as I would have liked. Eventually, I realized these thoughts weren’t helping me. In fact, they were causing me more pain.
So whenever one of these thoughts would creep in, I tried reminding myself that I couldn’t expect them to know what I was going through. I had to accept the present and try to make the best of it. Eventually, I was able to become more understanding and accepting of my friends and my life.
Tip 4: You must support yourself first.
Once my anxiety attacks started subsiding, I began making plans to go out and spend time with my friends. But then sometimes, the day would come and I’d have to cancel because I didn’t feel well. I began thinking that my friends would never take me seriously since I canceled plans more than half the time!
Then I realized that putting my health first is the most important thing I need to do. Sure, we don’t want to disappoint others by canceling plans or having to modify activities, but if it’s something you must do for you, do it! You have to live with your body, your condition, and your pain. Knowing when you can push yourself and when you need to back off is something that you must honor and respect.
Tip 5: You can still live an amazing life!
Any chronic diagnosis can put a damper on the life that you love, but I promise it’s not a death sentence. For me, it meant that I couldn’t live at the pace I once held. It also meant changing my diet completely, and it caused me to take inventory of how I live my life.
I wish I could tell you the transformation occurred overnight, but it didn’t. It took constant work on the first four tips in order for me to realize I had an awesome life. I had an amazing support system, a roof over my head, food on my plate and a place to sleep each night. And, I could still accomplish anything I put my mind to.
There are a lot of emotions that come from being diagnosed with any chronic condition. Let my story be a lesson for you. At first, it seems your life is over. You will have hard times. You’ll have flares that seem to never end. You’ll have pain, which sometimes can seem unbearable and you may have moments where you doubt everything about life. But, through focusing on these five tips and giving yourself time to process your new “reality,” you can learn to live a life you love!
My wish is that in time, the same will happen for you.
If you want to learn more about how to overcome the anxiety that comes with chronic disease, check out the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.
Ready to cut sugar out from your life? Take the #SugarPledge and sign up for our FREE 7-Day Sugar Detox Challenge
Want to read more?