Living with chronic illness

    • Brief

    • Long-term diseases can take a toll on both the body and the mind. You may experience anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. Getting the proper support to help you cope and remain productive is as important as taking your medicines and keeping your clinic appointments. Most people with a long-term illness often have it for a year or more, and some have it for life. Within that time, you may have medical needs like drugs, surgeries or other interventions to help you control the disease. You may also have disease flare-ups requiring hospitalisation and difficulties doing everyday tasks. Conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, allergies and HIV are long-term diseases. A long-term illness may affect your physical body function and often affects your mental health too. You may be required to forfeit some of the habits you enjoy and pick up new behaviours that can help you cope with the disease. You may also be faced with the possibility of becoming disabled and unable to support yourself through everyday tasks or productive work. These issues are often a source of significant stress. Your caregivers are often family members who offer support when you require it. They may also need some support as the long-term disease may affect their mental health too. This section provides a general approach for your journey with long-term conditions. For more specific information about living with your illness, you should look at the wellness content about that specific condition.
    • How your chronic illness can affect you

    • Having to live with a long-term illness will come with different challenges, which may be physical, emotional or financial. Your condition may change how you look, make you feel sad constantly, or take a toll on your finances. These changes can affect how you manage your illness and how you relate with the people around you.

      Physical challenges may involve having a scar you never had or having to lose a limb to amputation. This can make you sad or anxious about how to adjust to the recent development. You may also need to skip work frequently, and this may cause you to lose your job. Not having a job and spending money on your treatment can negatively affect your financial goals. In Nigeria, where there is ineffective health insurance coverage for millions, you may have to spend your savings or borrow money to cover your treatment. These effects can leave you depressed or frustrated and strain your relationship with your loved ones. You may also feel overwhelmed or tired of managing your condition.

    • When should you get help?

    • Discuss home care and emotional support with your healthcare provider immediately after your diagnosis. It's much better to start early rather than wait until you need the support.

      These signs may help you or a caregiver get help when you need it:

      • Worsening of symptoms of long-term disease.
      • Developing new symptoms.
      • Medicines are not bringing as much relief as they used to.
      • Not being able to afford your treatments and care anymore.
      • Change in living circumstances, like the death of your spouse or loss of your home.
      • Mental health disturbances, including confusion, anxiety attacks, depression and feelings of frustration
    • How can I make my life better?

    • The challenges of long term illnesses can be overwhelming. Here are some ways to cope and improve your life as much as possible.

      • Seek knowledge. To get a better quality of life, you need to understand the condition with which you are living. Do not shy away from asking your healthcare provider questions about your treatment and support communities for other people living with similar needs.
      • Seek help. Living with a long term illness may become too much for you to bear alone. You may need someone to remind you of your medicines, appointments, help with money, or help with your daily activities such as getting dressed. So, you must identify loved ones who are willing and available to help you.
      • Modify your lifestyle. Most long term conditions, like coeliac disease, hypertension and diabetes, will require you to change some parts of your lifestyle. These changes usually involve eating healthy meals, quitting smoking and alcohol, doing more exercise or drinking more water. There are others, like heart failure, that will reduce your ability to do everyday tasks. There will be small and meaningful changes; these will go a long way in improving how well you live.
      • Consider therapy. Sometimes, you may feel that the people around you do not understand you or feel emotionally overwhelmed by dealing with your illness. In times like this, talking with a healthcare provider or people in your support group living with a similar condition can be an excellent idea. Tell your healthcare provider how you feel and suggest your need for specialist care or a support group.
      • Spiritual and community coaches. In Nigeria, there is a shortage of skilled personnel that can provide professional counselling. However, there is a vast resource available through your spiritual community (pastor, imam, community or traditional religious head) if you belong to one. You can ask your healthcare provider about discussing your health with a spiritual or community head. Spiritual and community heads often get a lot of training to support their community members who live with HIV, diabetes, tuberculosis and cancer.
      • Live in the moment. You can sometimes worry excessively about your illness. While this is normal, it should not affect how well you function. Living in the present helps you create beautiful memories with your loved ones that both you and them can cherish. Hang out with your friends and have some fun from time to time. This distracts your mind from the stress or pain you are going through and helps you have a hopeful but realistic outlook on life.
    • Kulawa cares

    • Living with a chronic illness can stress you out. However, with support from your loved ones and habits such as eating a healthy diet, you can live a productive life. Remember to take it a day at a time and do the things you love and make you happy. Create beautiful memories with your loved ones and stay hopeful.