CAN I BE POSITIVE WITH A CHRONIC ILLNESS?

By Elana B

I am a diabetic. I was diagnosed in late January 2011, just short of my 66th birthday. I woke up feeling like that wintery day would be my last. I had been experiencing all the symptoms–no energy, couldn’t sleep, drank volumes of water but was still thirsty. My body was shouting for help the only way it could…by shutting me down. I called my office to tell them I wouldn’t be in–why is it we have dedication to a job, enough to take care of “business,” but too often ignore our health needs? I got ready and headed to an urgent care facility. It took monumental effort to get dressed–I was the complete opposite of the Energizer Bunny. Every little movement took so much effort; I had to rest in between. It felt like I was in a slow-motion movie carrying massive boulders up a hill.

I was turned away from urgent care because my health insurance was an HMO and I didn’t have a referral. This was devastating and frightening! I was in trouble and needed to see a doctor, but was told that the HMO doctor in the practice next door (and associated with urgent care) couldn’t see me until the next day. I dragged myself to the car, drove home, and spent the rest of the day in bed, hoping I would make it to tomorrow. The next morning, I repeated the agonizingly laborious effort to get ready and went to see the doctor.

Until recently I had been a statistic–an uninsured member of society. I realized the only way I could afford to see a doctor, get medication and continue treatment for this life “sentence” was that I was over 65 and had entered the portals of Medicare. I was grateful for that, but it was scary to think about the “what ifs” of co-pays, uncovered tests or treatments. Uninsured? Break an arm and you go to the emergency room at the nearest hospital and get it fixed–paying it off over time like a shiny, new automobile. Being diagnosed with a chronic condition that requires constant monitoring, check-ups, labs, and medication for the disease as well as for all the possible side effects–and there are several with diabetes–and you can find yourself diminished and overpowered by your illness–physically, mentally and emotionally, feeling battered by worry about how you can pay to stay alive and reclaim a modicum of health. So, how do you turn this basket of lemons into lemonade?

The Book of Mormon, scriptures that are a companion to my Bible, includes a wonderful, uplifting verse: “Men are that they might have joy,” (2 Nephi 2:25). This is my goal no matter the circumstances. Anyone with a chronic illness has two choices: give up, give in, let your condition take over as you fade into the background of what was once your life. Or, my recommendation, based on personal experience, is “Take charge!” God expects me to do my part even as I seek His help in my life. What does that mean? It means: meet that illness head on, arm yourself with knowledge, become pro-active (which means focusing on the positive), and follow the medical “prescription” that maximizes your quality of life.

The term “chronic” is defined as a condition that is long-term, can be treated but not cured. Part of meeting an illness head on is to admit to the “new you,” the condition, recognize that it won’t go away, and do everything you can to treat and control it. Step one in any recovery program is “Recognition”. It is the cornerstone for treatment. A wish-upon-a-star approach may work in the movies, but not in health care. Step two–read everything about your condition, talk to your health care provider, and follow the counsel given, take your meds, exercise, eat healthy foods, get rest, accept and adapt your schedule and choices to reflect what will bring you the highest level of well-being. Doing this gives you the most positive outlook and results, because you are fully engaged in your own health plan. Step three–keep your family and friends close, and get rid of as much negativity as you can. Step four–spend time doing positive things. Your life will never be the same, but you still have a life: you may have to swallow pills, take spoonsful of medicine, adjust your diet, schedule and activities, but you will be empowered as you do what makes you happy, what makes those around you happy, what makes you laugh, puts a smile on your face and feels satisfying. Remember, you are setting a strong example for others when you choose to be positive in a negative situation–love and laughter are the best medicine!

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