Overcoming Stigmas Living with Chronic Disease

Overcoming stigmas living with a chronic disease

For people living with a chronic disease, the stigma attached to it can be just as painful as the disease itself. Sadly, many people with ongoing physical or mental illness face a life of social isolation.

Sometimes this occurs because the disease forces you to abandon normal activities due to the fact that you just can’t physically engage with your surroundings like you used to do. Sometimes isolation occurs because your friends and family members don’t know how to cope with your disease or they don’t understand it, so they withdraw.

The risks of isolation

Either way, if you can’t nurture your relationships with others, they tend to get strained. And strain can feel especially confusing or isolating when you’re already coping with a chronic disease. According to an article in Imagine Life Therapy, “People with chronic illnesses often have to make choices for themselves that leave them more socially isolated, which is a risk factor for poor coping, depression, feelings of loneliness and anxiety.”

It happened to me

Speaking from my own personal life experiences, I know how hard it is to overcome social stigmas and emerge from the shadows with renewed health and strength. When my oldest son was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, my family’s world was forever changed. At that time, autism awareness was not as prevalent as it is today. Back then, as a first-time mom, it was easier for me to withdraw than to try to explain my son’s autism, which I didn’t even understand myself.

It happened again when I herniated my L5 a few years ago. All of my friendships came to screeching halt. I was no longer my upbeat, active self, and nobody knew how to react to the new me who was trapped in horrific physical pain. My life – as a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend and a business professional – was sidelined. I could feel myself tumbling downward again into a dark, lonely place.

A downward spiral

Those prickly feelings of isolation and loneliness can hurt you more than you think. In fact, they can make your chronic illness worse. Imagine Life Therapy also states, “The longer you are experiencing isolation or loneliness, the more you start to develop feelings of shame, guilt, inadequacy, distrust and abandonment toward yourself and others. The more these feelings grow, the less likely you are to seek out real human connections.”

How to overcome it

Obviously, adding depression to a chronic illness can be a huge obstacle in maintaining or regaining your physical health and mental wellbeing. The best thing you can do is be honest with yourself and admit you’re struggling. Then you must do something about it.

According to a recent article in The Globe and Mail, “What we focus on expands. If we focus on negativity, we become negative. If we focus on positivity, we can learn how to be happier. It doesn’t need to be complicated; it can be a choice. The sooner we learn this choice in life, the happier we can be.”

Recognize you need support

Yes, it can be incredibly hard to find happiness in the grips of a chronic disease, but there are proven methods of success you can follow to start feeling better. In my opinion, you need to share your feelings with a therapist, counselor or medical professional.

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Catherine Sklaroff Hale is a nationally recognized writer and autism advocate. She emerged as a voice that cuts through the clutter when she launched her mom blog in 2008, where she shared her parenting journey about life with an autistic child. Cathy has been featured in a variety of publications like Parents, Parenting, iVillage, Babble, Baby Center, Martha Stewart Living, The Guardian and Self. In 2014, Cathy suffered a devastating herniated disc and was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. Since then, she has been rehabilitated herself back to health and is passionate about helping others who also suffer from chronic pain conditions.
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