Health Tips For Coping With Chronic Illness

Posted: October 13, 2010
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Coping with chronic illness or unexplained pain can be very challenging to women’s health. Some health tips for chronic pain management.

By Charukesi Ramadurai

It all started with mild pain in the neck, moving down the shoulders and hands. From there to now, where I experience weeks and even months of debilitating pain all over the spine was a rapid decline. My husband I went from doctor to doctor (specialists most), talking about this pain, trying to find a reason and a solution. And nobody took it seriously. Pain that was often unbearable, that sometimes made it unable for me to get up from bed and move, pain that left me feeling exhausted and depressed all the time.

It was pain that doctors could not understand since it did not show up on x-rays or blood tests. I was tired of living with the pain. I was tired of being told that there was nothing wrong with me and that all I had to do was to stop imagining it and get on with life. I was tired of the questions in my mind that had no answers. Above all, I was tired of this lonely, long battle that seemed to have no end.

I was tired of the questions in my mind that had no answers. Above all, I was tired of this lonely, long battle that seemed to not have an end.

Painkillers, acupuncture, magnet-therapy, reiki, homeopathy, ayurveda, even surgery – I had tried it all in over ten years. Till there was finally a diagnosis – Fibromyalgia. All the conditions now made sense, the constant fatigue, insomnia, depression and the persistent pain. Above all, the relief of just knowing what was wrong was tremendous.

I thought about all this when a few months ago, I came across Dr. Atul Gawande’s fabulous commencement speech at Stanford’s School of Medicine where he spoke about information overload in the medical profession. He described the amount of new information every doctor (or any professional human being) needs to be on top of – and the need to therefore specialize. And the pitfalls of super-specialization.

Now, here is the thing. With increasing need for super-specialities and reliance on technology in medicine, are doctors losing the human touch? Is there a case of ‘medical myopia’ setting in and rapidly taking over the doctor-patient relationship? I long for that day when I see (Indian) doctors work the way Gawande went on to describe – with a sense of teamwork, notion of care for the patient and above all, with humility.

In the meanwhile, these are a few lessons I learnt along the way.

Health tips for coping with chronic illness

Listen to your body. Pain is a symptom, not the disease. When it hurts, when you have fever, when you feel abnormally tired, your body is trying to tell you something, so listen to the warning signals. Be brave about pain but do not push yourself. I have heard that there is a thin line between bravery and stupidity, and often I did myself a huge disservice by not recognizing that line. Or not respecting it when I did.

Believe that all pain is real. If you feel it, then it exists. Pain is physical even if the intensity and frequency of occurrence may have to do with your mental and emotional state. Fatigue is not the same as laziness, nor is constant pain tantamount to hypochondria. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – even the best doctors. Do not give in to the thought that perhaps you are exaggerating or imagining the pain and discomfort – and worse still, do not give in to negative emotions like guilt.

Ask questions and demand answers. It is your body and it is your right to know. Nobody has the power to believe that they know more about it than you do. Answers are often difficult to find since many doctors tend to get offended by questions, but it works to persist and ask for answers, if not actual solutions to your problems. It helps to get second or more opinions, if the initial course of treatment (or approach) suggested by your own doctor does not satisfy you.

Make the Internet your best friend. Use it (specifically, medical networking sites where information is usually genuine) to research your condition and you will find lots of answers, even those not provided by your physician. And you can use this information to ask further questions. Also, you will find several support groups on the internet – I have heard people describe these as “whine groups” but believe me, it is a comforting thing to know that there are other people out there who have gone through what you have, and more importantly, understand it.

When I hung on the periphery of such support groups, I managed to connect with a few people across the world and exchange stories – the “stop being a hypochondriac” and “you seem fine to me” stories that every fibromyalgia sufferer seems to carry. I went on to check out other medical networking sites. And the scary part is that all kind of chronic pain-sufferers have had such experiences with doctors – disbelief, insensitivity and hubris.

Learn to manage the pain (or any ailment). I learnt that fibromyalgia cannot be cured but the pain can be controlled and life can go on as normally as is possible for someone with that condition. I still live with chronic pain but I have learnt to live fully with it, despite it. I juggle my work and writing and travel and photography. I took the help of yoga and ayurveda. So, find ways of ameliorating your discomfort – approaching your problem in bite-sized pieces instead of seeing it as a large, looming issue will make it easier for you to live with it, and eventually find a solution that will help.

Try other systems of medicine and therapy – So, ayurveda, acupuncture, reiki, yoga – whatever suits you, whatever makes you feel better. Sometimes, even non-medical therapy like meditation works in helping you cope. There are enough nay-sayers and sceptics for these too but go with what you feel comfortable with and ignore them as much as you can.

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