There is no question that the day to day struggle to cope with chronic illness can be exhausting. One often despairs that the course of the illness can ever be stilled or any losses of strength or function regained. The attempt to stay even — physically, mentally, or emotionally — with a chronic disease may seem noble, yet it seems so futile.
Yet many fear that not struggling is surrendering. Some people suggest, for example, “doing battle” with an illness to overcome it. They see the illness as an enemy within the body, an alien attacker. Others believe that living as if the disability does not exist is the best policy. Both these approaches seem flawed to me. The first creates an unnecessary antagonism between different aspects of oneself. The second denies the reality of both the disease and the human capacity for healing.
It is possible to foster attitudes and take actions that make living with chronic illness easier and may in the long run influences its progression and outcomes. The first step in this middle way between struggle and surrender is to recognize and a disease or disability is not a judgement or a punishment. Chronic illness is something that happens to a person because of a variety of factors, known and unknown. There is no blame.
The second step is to realize that I am neither all powerful nor helpless to cope with my illness. I can live so that my illness effects but does not control my life. l am responsible for defining and choosing with the illness means for me.
A third step is to establish a relationship with my illness. Unwanted as it may be, it is a lifelong partner for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. To view it as an enemy or to ignore its presence does not unfortunately make it disappear. I must get to know it, live with it, come to terms with it.
Of course, this does not mean that the illness is my friend. Rather, I must accept it as an unwelcome companion on a long journey, acquaint myself with its moods, departures, and returns. Keep a wary eye upon it; know when to rest, to push, to struggle, and to compromise. And unlike with a friend, rejoice at its retreats and regret its arrivals.