Having a chronic illness is hard work some days. Coming to terms with the symptoms and their impact on everyday functioning can be stressful, especially if you have more than one illness (as many older adults do). Getting reliable information and support are vital, and https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/ is a good place to start. Many common illnesses have organisations which, as well as being a a good source of information, also provide support to those with the illness and their families (such as Arthritis NSW and Parkinson’s Australia). Support groups with members with the same illness or symptoms are a big help. Also, I recommend: Living a healthy life with chronic conditions by Dr Kate Lorig and colleagues, a book which has useful information on self-management of a range of chronic conditions.
Also be an active self-manager of your illness, as this helps both your physical and mental health. Self-management includes attending professional appointments (such as physiotherapy), managing medications, changing the way you carry out day-to-day tasks, and also making changes to your exercise, diet and thoughts. Accepting the need to use assistive devices, to get home modifications, or help from carers, are also common challenges. A third of those with a chronic illness become depressed, so learn to manage your emotions too. Talk over your physical and emotional challenges with friends, family and your GP. Ask if you need a referral to a medical specialist, or to a health psychologist if you need help setting up new habits to cope with the illness or its emotional effects.
Learning what you can control and what you need to accept is important and will help you thrive again. As Michael J. Fox said, “I don’t have any choice whether I have Parkinson’s, but surrounding that non-choice is a million other choices that I can make.”
Dr Sue Ferguson is an Honorary Associate Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Macquarie University.