Chronic Medical Conditions can be difficult to deal with. A Harvard Health Publication article writes, “dealing with the pain and aggravation of a broken bone or burst appendix isn’t easy. But at least there’s an end in sight. Once the bone or belly heals, you’re pretty much back to normal. That’s not true for high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, or other chronic conditions. With no “cure” in sight, they usually last a lifetime.” If this is the case, it is important to adjust and plan accordingly.
This article is intended for those interested in a different perspective on chronic conditions. Much of this content will also be appealing to those interested in preparedness. The preparedness mindset often has us living on purpose and with purpose. More often than not, this causes us to live deliberately. When we live deliberately, we maintain control over our lives. Frequently, these chronic conditions that ourselves or our loved ones suffer from make us feel as though we have no control over our lives whatsoever. The control we can gain via deliberate living is incredibly liberating.
Not only is this control liberating, but it is also very possible – but we cannot do it alone. For those who have a chronic medical condition or for those who have friends or family members with a chronic medical condition, we can benefit greatly if we allow others into our lives. For various reasons, such as fear or pride, we may try to deal with these issues on our own. While this may be possible, it is incredibly challenging. We are all human and we have human imperfections but there can be strength in numbers.
While the support of friends and family is helpful, there are times where counseling could likely be of tremendous benefit as well. I would imagine that working with a professional counselor could likely help find new and different ways to work towards acceptance of a chronic conditions. Working with others is great, but a counselor might help us find new tools to deal with the unique challenges presented to us on account of a chronic medical condition.
However, sometimes it takes a dramatic life event such as a hospitalization to facilitate such a change. There are days where I wonder if this is the case for myself. On October 1, 2013, I began to regain consciousness in the NeuroSciences Intensive Care Unit in a hospital located in Denver, CO. Since then, my entire life has changed. A close friend suggested, “make your mess your message” – and with that advice, I bring this article to you in an effort to share my experience with you and see the different messages we can take away from it.
“Make your mess your message” resonated with me. As I thought about what my friend had told me and prepared to write this article, I learned that this saying was coined by Robin Roberts. Robin Roberts is the anchor of ABC‘s morning show Good Morning America. She battled with breast cancer and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). You can read more about her and her powerful story here.
While I don’t have cancer or MDS, I do have a chronic neurological disorder known as Epilepsy. I have had this condition for over 20 years, as I was first diagnosed in my early teens. As with many other chronic medical conditions, I was directed to see a specialist. After trial and error, we found a medication that was most effective for the control of the seizures I experienced. It is important to note that seizures are a symptom of epilepsy. We will discuss this in greater detail later.
Once I became “stable” – I led a life not unlike most other teenagers in the suburbs in the 80’s and 90’s. However, seeing as I had a chronic medical condition, my life was not like that of most other teenagers during that time. In my particular case, epilepsy is not a debilitating condition. Some doctors and nurses I have met drew parallels between the epilepsy I suffer from and Type 1 Diabetes.
Doctors typically suggest that we take medication regularly if we wish to experience minimal symptoms of the condition. While I cannot speak to what doctors suggest for conditions other than my own, I suspect that many people with chronic medical conditions have doctors that suggest they choose to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
Generally speaking, as long as people with epilepsy take our medication regularly and live a balanced lifestyle, we should experience good health. I am in full agreement with this statement. Each time I suffered a seizure, there were contributing factors that I could attribute to the cause of the seizure (forgetting medication, lack of sleep, low blood sugar, etc). These contributing factors are simply patterns behind the symptoms of the chronic medical condition that factored into my life. For years, I chose not to deal with and/or recognize the patterns that played a major role in my life. We will discuss this in greater detail later.
During my teenage years and for the bulk of my adult life, I dealt with this disorder as little as possible. As previously mentioned, I had to see a neurology specialist several times a year. I did my best to take the medication to control the seizures, but often times simply “forgot” to take it. Reflecting back on these times, I suppose the forgetfulness of it was part of the denial according to the Kübler-Ross model, or “the five stages of grief.”
Generally speaking, the Kübler-Ross model is a series of emotional stages that is associated with death and dying, hence the name of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ book, “On Death and Dying” However, it is my opinion that chronic medical conditions can warrant extreme emotions and thus similar stages and emotions. The five stages of grief are as follows:
Further reading on the Kübler-Ross model reveals that, “Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of possessions and individuals that will be left behind after death. Denial can be conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, or the reality of the situation. Denial is a defense mechanism and some people can become locked in this stage.”
I was taking up hobbies that were not cheap and purchasing high-end equipment. I sought thrills and adrenaline. I would often times become interested in hobbies that would pique my interest enough to buy the new gear associated with them…only to quickly lose interest in them, moving on to something else that captured my attention. It was as if the denial regarding my epilepsy was “…replaced with heightened awareness of possessions.”
These behaviors put me into debt. I didn’t concern myself with the debt and really didn’t think anything of it. Growing up, the culture of debt and consumerism was as rampant as ever. In college, it was simply more of the same. Afterwards, I worked jobs that didn’t really pay well, but left me enough time to focus my attention on my newfound hobbies rather than the growth of my career. Furthermore, I became quite the social butterfly and began attending lots of live concerts, parties with many late nights.
As I write this now and reflect back on my past, things begin to make a little bit more sense. During my teenage years, I was angry because I didn’t understand epilepsy. In the same way, I suppose I also was in a state of denial because my condition “wasn’t that bad.” This denial led to difficulty remembering to take my medication regularly. Moreover, the challenges with accepting my epilepsy led to the accumulation of incredible personal debt and used frivolous spending in college and beyond to make myself “feel” some emotions that seemed to be lacking. I lived far beyond my means and further went into debt.
The purpose of sharing the above information is that sometimes, when we are forced to deal with chronic medical conditions (or the reality of impending death or other extreme life circumstances), we may have a tendency to behave in a manner that is consistent with the Kübler-Ross model – at least, that appears to play into how it worked out in my own life. As the years progressed and I matured, I took the necessary steps to deal with my life as it was. The circumstances of my life included, but were not limited to, my medical condition.
As I began to accept my medical condition, I also began to understand that I don’t have to let it define me.
It is important to make the conscious decision to live life on purpose. When we live deliberately, we maintain control over our lives. When we maintain control over our own lives, we can experience increased peace of mind and many other benefits we may never have experienced before. This is incredibly liberating. This is also entirely possible…if you choose to live this way.
For those who have a chronic medical condition and/or family members with a chronic medical condition, I would suggest that you seek counseling in order to find ways to work towards acceptance with what it is that we are dealing with. When we come to terms with what we must deal with, we can deal with it more effectively and efficiently. We simply live life on life’s terms.
In the case of my own chronic medical condition, epilepsy, seizures are a symptom of epilepsy. This is important because I take medication to treat the symptoms, rather than address the root cause of the condition itself. While I am not suggesting that anyone should discontinue taking medication prescribed by their doctor, I am suggesting that we all begin looking beyond our doctors for treatments that include but are not limited to those that deal primarily with allopathic or traditional Western medicine.
Also, after having dealt with the condition for a substantial amount of time – I also grew to recognize, acknowledge and accept the patterns behind the symptoms of the condition that I have. One of the best methods of treatment that I can engage in is very simple: live a balanced lifestyle and life in a manner according to the patterns that one determines contributes to the negative aspects of one’s lifestyle. Ultimately, we do this through a consistent analysis of our lives in an effort to recognize the patterns, for better and for worse.
While these chronic conditions can be difficult to deal with and there may be no “cure” in sight, there are many different ways to view the conditions that we have or those that we love and care about have. With a shift in perspective, we can gain the control we may have felt we never had. We can experience freedom. While these chronic conditions may last a lifetime, we can experience freedom for a lifetime as well…if you have the right perspective.