As a rheumatologist, I have seen the evolution of our field over the past twenty years, and it has made me even more hopeful for continued scientific improvements that will benefit my patients. I consider myself a coach to my patients, so when I meet with my clients we think of a plan to tackle the care of their disease, regularly discuss the good and bad days, and keep the same goal in mind – figure out how they can live the most enjoyable life possible, even with a chronic disease.
No one feels positive all of the time and accepting that some days will be challenging is part of everyone’s life experience. When it is time to take back your life with an optimistic view, here are some tips to try and stay positive.
Tips for Staying Positive Despite Chronic Illness
Make peace with your diagnosis
One of the first steps to getting better is making peace with your diagnosis. Once you and your rheumatologist know what is happening to you, it is easier to find a path to disease control and remission. At times, you may not have a definitive diagnosis, but that shouldn’t keep you from working with your rheumatologist to find the best treatment approach. Science continues to evolve, and this may lead to finding new diseases, or better yet, being able to diagnose patients before they start developing symptoms. Accepting the reality of the known, or the unknown, and working with it will save you time and energy.
Evaluate your progress over a period of time
The truth is, medications that have an instant effect are rare in rheumatology. Most drugs may take a few weeks to several months to fully work and comparing each day to the previous day will only make you anxious. I find that reflecting one week at a time will give you a better idea of whether a treatment appears to be working for you.
Focus on the good days
Everyone has good and bad days, but when living with chronic conditions, these bad days can be severe and prevent you from getting out of bed. It is important to accept that during those times, your body is asking you to take it easy, and you should probably listen to it. Give your body the time it needs to rest and remember that not all days are bad and that you can look forward to better days.
Find things that make you happy
It may be hard to be grateful when you experience pain, fatigue, or other symptoms. However, finding things in your life that make you happy can offset some of your frustrations. This may be the new treatment you just started and are hopeful about, or seeing a flower that just emerged in the garden after you’ve carefully watered it, or the visit from your neighbors to see how you are doing. Practicing gratitude will reduce the emotional burden that you experience on bad days and will help to improve your overall mental health.
Ask for help: Use your medical team
Your best support system is your medical team. Have a follow-up visit or send a note to your team and let them help alleviate some of your stress. Your team is there with you, and there is nothing that makes them happier than to help you.
Break down tasks into manageable steps
The Egyptian pyramids were not made in one day. Careful planning, with manageable goals, will help you tackle any overwhelming tasks. Be careful not to overdo things, and when needed, get help from your friends, family, and professionals.
Be gentle with yourself
Remember that your rheumatic disease is not your fault, and you are not failing. We can all be grateful for our bodies working as well as they do. Sometimes the balance is lost, but thankfully the medicines of our time can help reestablish that balance. Even if we do not find the right treatment the first time, there are often multiple options – options that will continue to improve as science improves.
About the Author
Isabelle Amigues, MD, MS is a native of France where she received her training as a medical doctor specializing in rheumatology. She is currently a rheumatologist at National Jewish Health in the Division of Rheumatology and Department of Medicine.