Life is hard enough without having a chronic illness. The stress of chronic illness and pain can push us right over the edge to a place where life becomes unbearable and all hope is gone. We desperately need the kind of hope that withstands the difficulties of life. One way to begin to find hope is through acceptance.
It took me ten years to come to the place where I accepted that my fibromyalgia and chronic pain were not going away. When I finally got to that place of peace, I was accused of both choosing to make illness my identity and not having enough faith that God would heal me. I was prayed for and prayed over. I was told I needed to exercise more, take supplements, lose weight, stop taking so much medicine, drink special water (two different kinds, in fact), and quit being lazy.
In reality, I went to multiple doctors, took numerous supplements and traditional medicine, tried chiropractics (five times) as well as physical therapy (three times), and had three surgeries. Finally, I realized that the pain was not going away, and that I might as well learn to live with it.
When you live with chronic pain and illness, every day is hard. Learning to accept that the pain and illness is not going away is even harder. But what I realized in the process is that acceptance can actually bring hope.
So, HOW do you get to that place?
Start by accepting that this circumstance of chronic illness is an opportunity to refine and strengthen your character. Having this perspective enables you to see the good in your situation and can even bring joy back into your life. Because of the difficulty you have endured due to chronic illness and pain, you will develop a strength that you would not have had before. You will become more sensitive to the hardships of others. You will be able to help others experiencing pain and illness, because you understand what they are going through. You will begin to respect the person you are becoming, because you are developing the inner strength to keep going despite the pain. You are a person who will not quit in the face of adversity.
Acceptance of the pain itself does wonders for your ability to cope. This does not mean, necessarily, that you are discontinuing treatment or giving up trying to make the illness or pain go away. This type of acceptance simply means that, while you realize that the pain is not going away today, you also realize that life can still be good, and that you can enjoy participating in your chosen activities. To do this, you must decide to take the pain with you wherever you go (because it is going with you whether you like it or not). You are making the choice to accept the pain because you know that it will be with you, anyway. At the same time, you choose not to focus on it or let it hinder you from enjoying the activities you want to continue. When you do this, you are well on your way to being able to cope when you would otherwise normally quit, which brings us to another point.
Don’t quit activities that make you happy. Quitting all the activities you enjoy because of chronic pain will result in isolation and depression, so choose the activities that are important to you, and keep participating in them. These things will give you a sense of normalcy, and continuing in them will help prevent devastating losses that can accompany chronic pain and illness. You will need to learn how to push yourself when you need to push without pushing yourself past your limits. Through this process, you will develop a sense of what is too much to do at one time.
Pace yourself. Do this by allowing yourself to rest. Carve rest days into your week and rest periods into your days. This is essential and will enable you to keep going for the long haul. It will also prevent you from having to quit an activity because you have overdone it.
Be patient with yourself. You will continually fail your personal expectations because you no longer have the same capabilities that you used to have. Recognizing and accepting this fact will help you be more accepting of yourself and your situation. Giving yourself grace when you need it will help keep you from becoming discouraged with yourself and your inabilities. Life is not what it used to be, and you do not have the same abilities you used to have. You will need to readjust your expectations of yourself. While not an easy lesson to learn, it is one that will help bring contentment back into your days. This does not mean that you give up and quit because you are no longer able to do what you used to do, rather it helps you know when to stop an activity now, so you can pace yourself and keep living the new life you have been given with a personal sense of peace and grace each day.
Be patient with others. Your family and friends do not know what chronic pain feels like, and hopefully, they will never know. Some try to understand, but others do not. Unfortunately, some friendships will fall away because some people do not know how to help in situations like this. But some friendships will grow stronger, and it is those people that will stick by you in the days to come. Focus on those friendships.
Try to make new friendships with people who do understand chronic pain. These types of friendships will provide the support that you will need in the future. There are numerous online groups for people with chronic illness. One such group started as a result of this blog and is called, God-Living Girls. To join, go to www.facebook.com/groups/godlivinggirls. Many of the people in these types of groups are experiencing the exact same things you are dealing with on a regular basis. They will help give you ongoing support and encouragement. Over time, you may just develop friendships that will last a lifetime.
Ask for help. This is perhaps one of the hardest lessons to learn, but it is essential when living with illness or pain. You may be surprised at the number of people who are willing to help. Unfortunately, sometimes family and friends grow weary of listening to and helping the person in pain. If you are experiencing this situation, try to ask other people for help when you need it. Try not to mention your pain constantly. It is natural to talk about what you are experiencing, but you must become aware of when people are weary of listening to it. If you are unable to find tangible help that you need, such as assistance with medical bills, food, or transportation to doctor’s appointments, research the community resources in your area that offer help to people living with chronic illness. There are resources available that offer transportation to physician’s offices, assistance with financial needs, or help with food. Government agencies or churches in the area may also be able to provide for these types of needs.
Focus on the good in your life. If you have trouble identifying the good things, ask a friend to help you have a broader perspective. Every day before bed, try to think of three things for which you are thankful. Practicing gratitude in this way will help you maintain a positive attitude. Purposeful gratitude has a way of lifting you up out of the despondency of your situation and enabling you to gain a more positive and hopeful perspective, which ultimately helps you keep going when you would otherwise quit. You will find a printable gratitude journal in the “printable” section of this blog.
Deal with bitterness and other negative emotions daily. Difficult emotions like anger, bitterness, frustration, fear, anxiety, and depression are emotions that we are forced to deal with all the time when living with chronic illness. Dealing with them as soon as they come up prevents them from becoming a way of life. If you are dealing with particularly difficult emotions, consider talking to a mental health counselor, life coach, or pastor.
Remove “I CAN’T” from your vocabulary. If you don’t remove those two words from your vocabulary, you will never do anything because chronic pain makes you feel capable of nothing. Most of the time, to be able to accomplish anything you will have to force yourself to put one foot in front of the other. Remembering that will help you do what you need to do to complete the task at hand. You will have to repeat this process with every task you face every day, so reward yourself when a goal is accomplished. For example, after you have successfully made it through a hard day at work, take a relaxing bath later. Associating rewards with hard daily tasks will help you to complete those tasks.
Accepting chronic illness or pain is a powerful way to learn to live with it, manage it, and move forward. Another essential way is by attending to your spiritual needs. To join a ladies’ Bible study called Discovering Hope by Cindee Re, go to God-Living Girls and request to join. The study starts January 15, 2017, and is free. The book is available on amazon here. We would love to have you join us as you take your first steps towards finding real and unending HOPE.
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Disclaimer: The author and God-Living with Chronic Illness do not receive any compensation for references to specific products, ideas, people, or websites. The ideas posted are not intended as medical advice and should not be taken as such in place of your physician’s recommendations.
Hi! My Name is Laurie, and I am a wife, mom, nurse, and patient living with fibromyalgia. I understand first-hand what life is like with chronic pain and illness. My passion is to help provide others with the spiritual encouragement and resources that I so desperately needed when I was first diagnosed. Please join us on the blog and Facebook page for regular encouragement and hope. To find a welcoming, positive place for women with chronic illness to connect, join God-Living Girls. Welcome!