Taking control of an illness is possible for many, to various degrees, but anyone who has had a serious illness knows control isn’t always that easy. It takes work and often support from various people in your life. Sometimes control doesn’t necessarily mean curing the problem, but just lessening the symptoms and the illness progression.
I have a mental illness, but I think this topic is applicable to people with other types of illnesses, too. For that reason, I’d like to discuss some ways all of us can take some control.
Keep taking medications (if applicable) and practicing healthy living – Taking medications regularly (if applicable) and/or practicing healthy living skills is usually a must if you want to see improvement in your symptoms. Have an honest discussion with your doctor if you experience uncomfortable side-effects, or if the medication seems to fall short of expectations. Often it takes more than one (or several) medication trial to find the most helpful medicine. Patience and determination are necessary. Often people get frustrated and stop treatment, exacerbating the illness.
Healthy living is almost always most effective if practiced regularly, and not sporadically. If tests and regular check-ups are suggested, keep up with them. Doctors rely on tests to determine treatment effectiveness, treatment side effects, or illness progression.
Reducing stressors that bring on episodes/symptoms – Reducing stressors is particularly important for people with mental illness, but also for some physical illnesses. Although it can be hard to find ways to prevent or reduce them, even small changes can make a difference. Asking for help is difficult, but sometimes necessary. Whether it is talking to a boss about a temporary reduced workload, getting family, couples or private therapy, cutting down on unnecessary tasks, or one or more of several other things. Courage in asking for help is a first step.
Support is so important. You might be surprised how much support is out there, beyond just doctors and therapy. Of course family and friends are options, but if they aren’t, know that organizations of all types are available for in-person support. Some might include your church, or organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, or other 12-Step programs, if applicable. The National Alliance on Mental Illness and Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance offers many support options for people with mental illness. Hospitals offer various programs ranging from help for people with eating disorders to diabetes workshops to grief counseling, and more. If none of these are what you need, ask your doctor for other recommendations. Also, don’t forget that there are a myriad of support sites online for people with almost every health problem. One I volunteer for is at www.mdjunction.com . If ever any support becomes counterproductive, do step away from it/them.
Recognizing triggers to put coping skills in action – Triggers can bring back illness symptoms, if not prevented. First, it is necessary to identify what your triggers are. Sit down and list them, or discuss them with a supporter, doctor or therapist. Once you know your triggers, try to find ways to prevent or avoid them, or create an action plan on how to cope when they seem inevitable.
When episodes/symptoms start, work to calm progression – If symptoms of your illness are starting to worsen, that’s when use of coping skills is so important. Be prepared with a list of these skills to remind you when and how to use them. They should probably include calling your doctor, or using techniques that help ease symptoms (e.g. relaxation techniques, rest, special types of exercise, or others recommended).
When your illness is at full tilt – Controlling illness at its worst can be quite a fight. Being in frequent contact with your doctor and/or therapist is so important at this point. Work or other accommodations may also be necessary. You need full help and support at this point. Try to stay optimistic. If you know you’ve brought your symptoms under control in the past, then it is certainly possible to do so again, as hard as it seems. Know that there are many others with success stories. If they can do it, so can you. Your illness is NOT your fault. Don’t ever think that, it only worsens the situation.
As a person with bipolar disorder, I know that my illness will never go away. I know that it is certainly possible that my symptoms will return to some degree at some point in the future. Acceptance is important for me, but acceptance doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. I live for the times in my life that I feel well (or reasonably well) and take advantage of that time wisely. Even when I’m unwell I try to find simple pleasures as much as I can. It helps me to get through the struggle. During the worst of times I remind myself what I’m thankful for, such as my husband, my family, the sun, my gardens, my blog, the health that I do have, and many other things. Appreciation for these things also helps maintain some level of control in my life.
Do you have more suggestions for ways to take control of your illness?