What defines a chronic illness?
Depending on what resource you use, you may find a variety of answers to this question. However, in my research as a writer and a patient, it appears the duration of an illness usually labels it as “chronic.” The length required in the health insurance industry is a duration of at least three months or longer. Overall, the medical profession usually considers one year as defining chronic illness.
An article authored by Wullianallur Raghupathi and Viju Raghupathi and published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Health (the “Raghupathi findings”) shares the following definition of chronic illness:
‘a physical or mental health condition that lasts more than one year and
causes functional restrictions or requires ongoing monitoring or treatment’
Three months doesn’t seem all that long, and yet a year seems like a long time to be under the veil of illness. But suppose the illness or condition lasts longer. Let’s say the rest of your life. Based on your age, that could be several decades or a few years. Take into account the illness or condition and it could be a stressful situation for you and perhaps those you love.
How many people suffer from chronic illnesses?
The Raghupathi findings state that almost half of all Americans (45% or 133 million) suffer from one or more chronic conditions or illnesses. The persistence of such illnesses drive up hospitalizations, insurance costs, long-term disability payments, and death. The only factor showing a downward movement is the quality of life.
A quick look at some common chronic illnesses.
The following listing was compiled with the assistance of the Internet and should not be considered all-inclusive:
As noted, this is not a complete listing of chronic illnesses or conditions that fall under the description used by insurance companies or healthcare facilities as “chronic.” For example, there are numerous conditions which create chronic pain in some individuals. Likewise, respiratory conditions are diagnosed which over the long-term will cause a patient to struggle with chronic breathing issues.
Before moving on, I want to clarify that this post is written with writers in mind. However, it is not intended to imply that other individuals, no matter their profession or career, don’t fall victim to chronic illnesses and the struggles mentioned here. My personal experience is my lens into the subject matter and, therefore, writers and writing are my focus here.
Also, I am not a medical professional. Any tips and/or advice shared are my personal tools for coping. Before using them, you should consult your personal physician.
Coping with a chronic illness.
Coping with chronic illness is not easy for anyone. Chronic illness disrupts not only the victim’s life but also the lives of family, friends, co-workers, and on and on. A chronic illness often begins a cycle of many other changes in the victim’s life, including the onset of depression, lack of society, changing eating habits, level of physical activity, often outward appearance, and more.
The side effects of the chronic illness or pain are sometimes more destructive than the primary illness itself. For example, depression is a component of my chronic pain. Days become long and sad when all your energy is focused on controlling the pain. Certain prescription medications, such as opioids, make bad matters worse in some instances.
Depression can lead to anger and frustration with never-ending illness or pain. When there are no new answers or treatments, it is easy to fall into a pattern of anger and often your anger is taken out on someone rather than the thing creating your emotional upset.
Sometimes you feel like burying your head under the covers and hibernating as a bear does in winter. But this isn’t a solution either. Withdrawing from the society of family and community leaves you feeling lonely, adding to the cycle of depression and anger.
Needless to say, none of these cyclical add-on symptoms help the main cause of the chronic illness knocking on the door of your life.
How does a writer function under these circumstances?
As writers, we’re encouraged to write every day. What do you do when every day isn’t always a good day? How do you move on with your writing when medications leave you in a mental fog? If your pain level is so intense nothing brings relief, how do you manage to put words on the page?
I can tell you firsthand it isn’t easy. You want to write, but somehow you can’t. You search for something that will trigger the flow of words, but nothing happens. Your head seems to be swirling out of control, and then…
Your mind becomes filled with a massive list of questions:
- How will I meet my deadline?
- How will I ever get through the edits on my manuscript?
- I need to get out and get some research done. How can I manage that?
- Getting out of bed to get my family out the door in the mornings is a challenge. What can I do to make it any easier for me, them?
- Some days the depression envelops me. How can I break that cycle?
- I’m angry and frustrated that my life is controlled by a chronic illness/pain. Is there some way to resolve this emotional state I’m in?
- And likely this list could grow ad infinitum.
Here is a good place to end Part 1. In Part 2, I share answers to some of the above questions and tips for coping with the chronic nature of some illnesses and pain.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and/or stories about someone you know who has a chronic illness or your own story if you’re comfortable doing so.
Hi Sherry, we haven’t been in touch for a while now. I read your post with great interest. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME that cycles. It’s so frustrating when you’re on an up cycle and planning your writing (I have 2 books sitting on the back burner) and then boom CFS lays you low. I find the practice of Jon Kabat Zinn’s “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Pain Relief” enormously helpful. His guided meditation is useful for both physical and emotional pain. Fond regards, Jennifer
Jennifer, it has been quite some time since we’ve connected. Good to have you stop by. I often think the frustration of planning out your writing and then the pain smacks you down is almost as overwhelming as the pain itself. I appreciate your recommendation of Zinn’s work. I’ll look into it. Thanks for your commiserating, Sherrey
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