The Added Stress of Having a Chronic Illness During a Pandemic

And 3 things to help you cope.
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I can feel the pain in my throat before I open my eyes. Without getting out of bed, I know I’m running a fever. It’s going to be one of those days.

At any other time, I wouldn’t stress too much. I know what it’s like to live every day with Familial Mediterranean Fever, so waking up with pain and a fever is no surprise.

Then came 2020. Then everything changed.

Living with chronic illness

Familial Mediterranean Fever is an auto-inflammatory disease that causes periodic fevers and excess inflammation. As the inflammation builds, it slowly crushes your vital organs. Besides the fever, FMF causes widespread pain and occasional rashes.

For me, every attack starts with a sore throat. Before COVID-19, a minor throat irritation didn’t worry me much. During the last 12 months, though, every sore throat sends me into a panic.

Living with a chronic illness every day is hard. Add in the pandemic, and it's even worse. Here are three ways to cope. | #spoonies #chronicillness #pandemic
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Add an anxiety disorder

It doesn’t help that I also have generalized anxiety disorder. My anxiety flies off the handle for no reason at all. Adding any other stressors into the mix makes things even worse.

Now, as each fever starts, each twinge of a sore throat, my mind immediately goes to what it might be.

Is it just a normal FMF attack, or am I in the starting days of the Corona? And if it’s the virus, what does that mean for my family and friends?

Mentally, I run through a list of everyone who I’ve seen in recent days, whether it be through my job or at the grocery store. Like most of you, I’ve limited my interaction with friends over the last year. It’s been difficult, but I’ve tried to be conscious of the rules for social distancing.

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Living with a chronic illness is stressful at any time. When you don’t know if the pain you’re feeling is the general malaise caused by your chronic illness or the start of something much worse, the stress level increases exponentially.

I could write a whole post on how the pandemic has affected mental health. Even the millions of people who were relatively healthy mentally before the virus started, now have at least some sort of PTSD after living through the last year. Millions have lost family and friends and neighbors, not to mention jobs and businesses. Some are homeless because of the virus. No matter what type of normal comes next, the virus has forever changed our lives.

How do you cope amid all this madness? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a few suggestions.

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Be reasonable

The first thing to do is to be reasonable. If you’ve been away from people for the last 14 days, it’s unlikely you have the virus. There’s no reason for all the extra stress running through your head.

Yet, as more of us head back to our normal work lives, it’s doubtful that you’ve gone that long without being in contact with someone. I’m in the midst of tax season and met with 10 people just yesterday, so I understand the anxiety you’re experiencing.

COVID-19 has become a conversation. It’s not just, “Hi, how you doing?” anymore, but, “Hi, have you had the virus? Did the pandemic take any of your loved ones?”

Many of the people in my community have already had COVID-19. While I understand you can get it twice, it gives me a bit of sanity to know that maybe it’s made the worst of its march through our community.

With the coming additional strains, it’s hard to know what to think. Since you don’t know everything, it’s important to concentrate on what you do know.

Also Read: You Still Have Something Beautiful to Give (Even If You Feel Broken)

Globally, the survival rate of COVID-19 is running almost 98%. Those are pretty good odds, especially if you consider heart disease causes one out of every four deaths in the United States. Bipolar disorder is just as insidious, with as many as 20% of patients dying by suicide.

I know I have bipolar disorder and based on family history, I will develop heart disease. Suddenly, the 2% chance of dying from COVID-19 doesn’t have the same power over me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not downplaying the risk of COVID-19, nor is my intent to minimize the pain caused by the nearly 2.8 million deaths. My point is that when put in perspective, the pandemic shouldn’t induce excess anxiety. It’s a terrible thing, but we live in a world of terrible things and yet manage to go on.

Have you been diligent in wearing a mask? Do you wash your hands regularly throughout the day? What places do you go and who have you spent time with? There are things you can do to minimize the risk to your health. Being properly informed should be part of your plan.

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Be hopeful

Hospitals have repeatedly documented how patients who have hope have higher survival rates. A strong desire to live is also essential.

We must believe better days are coming. There can be no doubt in our minds that something positive is waiting for us.

Keeping hope alive is challenging. When you see all the death and sadness in your community and on the news, hope seems to be out of reach from reality. Even if that’s the case, then start by letting your hope be imaginary. Imagine what a better world would be like and then make yourself believe that such a world is possible.

One of my favorite quotes by Nelson Mandela says, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

A better future might seem impossible right now. Many doctors say the Corona virus will be with us forever. I hope they’re wrong. I choose to believe in the future where there won’t be illness. Sounds impossible? Nothing is impossible.

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Be grateful

The third way to cope with all the insanity is to practice being grateful. Gratitude is a special gift. By focusing on the things that are good in your life, the bad things shrink in comparison.

You can only concentrate on one thing at a time. When you purposely choose to focus on the positive, the negative has less power over you.

Every breath of air is a reason to be grateful. This should be clear to us because of the millions we’ve lost to the virus. Every time the sun comes up, every time the rain falls to cleanse the Earth, and every time the sun sinks behind the horizon, those are all reasons to be grateful.

If your friends and family have survived the virus, they are additional reasons to be grateful.

I love to work in my yard. Seeing the beauty of spring blossoming around me fills me with immense gratitude.

Practicing gratitude means looking for the good in your life. It takes effort, but is worth every ounce of energy you spend on it.

Also Read: 7 Powerful Inspirational Quotes for Living With Mental Illness

Appreciate everything, no matter how small. Some days are harder than others, but there are always things to be thankful for.

On the tough days, I think about the little things that bring me joy. It might be the Pepperidge Farm cookies I’m munching on, or the sound of my cat’s purr, but both things bring me joy. Both go on my list.

Be conscious of the things that bring you joy. Even if that happiness is momentary and light, it’s a positive thing and needs to be appreciated. The more you see the good in your life, the more strength you will have to continue during the bad.

Living with chronic and mental illness is a challenge. The events of the last year have made it much harder to face this reality. Yet, most of us are still here. So instead of worrying about what might be, we need to think about what we can build next.

Until next time, keep fighting.

Living with a chronic illness every day is hard. Add in the pandemic, and it's even worse. Here are three ways to cope. | #spoonies #chronicillness #pandemic
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