By Dr. Craig A. Maxwell
Millions struggle with chronic illness and, in addition to the pain and loss of energy, they are also forced to endure added social stigma. Although doctors can provide treatments to alleviate symptoms of physical pain, many overlook the psychological implications of these conditions.
Those who struggle with invisible and/or rare illnesses often suffer the worst. Chronic fatigue syndrome, adrenal fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, and heavy metal toxicity are just a few examples of chronic illnesses that are not well-understood and often dismissed.
Chronic conditions that are not-so-invisible, such as eczema and psoriasis, can also create social stigma through misunderstanding and fear.
Despite general consensus, chronic illness doesn’t only affect those of advancing age. As a matter of fact, it is estimated that one out of every seven men and one out of every eight women between the ages of 17 and 44 are limited in their ability to work, do household chores, go to school, and engage in social activities because of a chronic illness.
How to Overcome the Stigma of Chronic Illness
1. Surround Yourself with Advocates
When your illness is misunderstood or simply not believed by friends, family, and co-workers, it can be emotionally devastating. This is why it’s important to spend more time with those in your life who believe, support, and understand you and less with those who don’t. (Paring down your contact with naysayers may actually make them take you more seriously over time).
2. Continue Daily Activities When Able
When you’re tired and in pain, you may not want to even get out of bed but that can put you in the mindset of giving up. Whenever you are able, continue your daily activities. This will help keep you connected to the world around you and help stave off feelings of helplessness, apathy, and depression.
3. Disclose Your Condition Selectively
Talking about your illness openly and honestly is an admirable way to show your self-acceptance. It can also be a way to get you unfairly labeled as a hypochondriac. The common belief is that those who speak about their illness often are just looking for attention. Instead, disclose your condition only to your immediate supervisor, close friends, and trusted family members who will back your story and defend you against negative talk.
4. Pace Yourself and Conserve Energy
Some diagnosed with chronic illness respond with an almost frenetic desire to get everything done right now before symptoms worsen and they “run out of time”. Be sure to pace yourself and conserve energy for activities you deem most important.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this article shortly…..
– Dr. Craig A. Maxwell is a board-certified osteopathic physician based in Ohio. He has been successfully treating patients with difficult-to-treat disorders and chronic illness for the past 30 years. He is available for personalized telephone consultations wherever you are in the world. For more information, visit AskDrMaxwell.com.