Owning Your Chronic Disease – Not Letting it Own You
“Diabetes really hit me in the face. I was overwhelmed and discouraged. Even though my doctor is very good, I just didn’t know how to manage it at all.” That’s how Carol Menard, 76, describes feeling after a trip to the emergency room resulted in a diagnosis of diabetes and left her facing life living with a chronic condition. “When I saw a flyer for the [free] Healthier Living workshop it was a lifesaver. I’m managing my food now; I exercise, and even do meditation every day. I feel comfortable with myself. I’m a happy person again!”
No one wants to have a chronic long-term illness, yet most of us will experience two or more of these during our lives. In Vermont, 51 percent of all adults have one or more lifelong health conditions. If you are over the age of 65, that number jumps to 88 percent. While an acute illness such as strep throat usually begins abruptly and can be fixed by a visit to the doctor, a chronic illness typically develops slowly and lasts a long period of time — often a lifetime. Asthma, chronic pain, heart disease, and arthritis are all examples of chronic illnesses. Research has found that people living with chronic conditions experience similar concerns, needs and emotions like fatigue, anger, frustration, isolation and depression. They also have similar experiences they can share with each other.
The free Healthier Living workshop series brings people together to address common problems. The goal is to help them build confidence in their ability to manage their own health and maintain active, fulfilling lives. Workshops are offered on chronic disease, chronic pain, and diabetes. Covered topics include:
- Goal setting
- Using your mind to manage symptoms
- Dealing with difficult emotions
- Communicating with providers and family
- Nutrition and exercise options
“A powerful component of these workshops is that they are led by people living with chronic conditions themselves,” notes Audrey Monroe, a co-leader, “This helps create a sense of safety, understanding and belonging among the group. What I hear from group members all the time is “Now, I don’t feel so alone.”
Here’s an easy-to-use yet powerful workshop tip to try today: Practice replacing a negative thought with a more positive one.
- Negative: “The future frightens me. My life will never be the same.”
- Positive: “Life is an adventure. Something wonderful may be around the corner for me”.
- Negative: “I just can’t lose weight. It’s hard and diets don’t work for me.”
- Positive: It’s important for me to maintain a healthy weight to prevent complications. Instead of dieting, I will make small changes in the way I eat.”
This subtle change in thinking and perceiving your world can have a big impact on your future.
Research has shown that workshop participants are able manage their conditions and find that their health does not interfere as much with daily life. They report fewer visits to their doctors and the emergency room, and are less discouraged by their health.
“I’m glad I did the program,” observes Carol. “You have to learn how to take care of yourself better if you’re going to survive diabetes and not be sick. I’ve lost four pounds and my A1C (a common blood test used to gauge how well someone is managing their diabetes) is down to 6.9. My doctor is excited!”
Like Carol, people who feel confident managing their own health can be more active partners with their healthcare team to remain healthier, avoid hospitalizations and stay engaged with their families, work and communities.
For more information about our free evidence-based self-management programs, please call 802-847-2278. The next workshop will be Healthier Living with Chronic Pain, which will take place Mondays July 8-August 12, 2:00-4:30pm at Whitcomb Terrace, 136 West Street Essex, Vermont.
Our other programs include Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP), a system for people dealing with mental health and other health challenges who want to attain the highest possible level of wellness; and A Matter of Balance, designed for older adults concerned about falling, and Tobacco Cessation Group Support.
Robyn Skiff is program coordinator for Medical Home Self Management, part of the office of Community Health Improvement at Fletcher Allen Health Care.