Being Hopeful in the Face of Chronic Illness

Learn how to hold on to hope even when faced with the challenges of a chronic illness

Being Hopeful in the Face of Chronic Illness

By Lana Barhum Published at June 15, 2015 Views 1,204

Ever since I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia in 2007, I have wondered what keeps people hopeful in order to successfully cope with and overcome challenges that illness brings. It is fascinating how some people can bounce back quicker than others when it comes to personal challenges, illness, and other tragedies.

On the surface, it would seem that some of us are just more resilient, but if you dig deeper, you find that is not the case. What these experts of resilience have is hope—for better days, for overcoming setbacks, and for dealing with uncertainty. But hope isn’t naturally felt, it is something we learn through choice and experience.

What is Hope?

Everyone has the ability to feel hopeful, bounce back from setbacks, and become stronger as a result. Unfortunately, too many do not know what hope actually means and what to look for when being hopeful.

Hope is believing that there are good things out there. It is a way of thinking, feeling, and acting in an effort to get through the most difficult of times. Sometimes, it can be hard to feel hope when life with chronic illness is uncertain and confusing. But if we choose it, hope can help us to face any adversity with immense strength and resilience. Hope helps us to envision better outcomes despite the obstacles posed.

Like so many, I have faced many challenges with my health and hope has allowed me to get a better handle on those. When I was first diagnosed, hope was difficult to find and keep, but the more challenges I overcame, the easier it became to recognize hope.

I have heard people say that hope is the same thing as denial because you are pretending that life isn’t difficult when it is. But to me, hope means finding ways to deal with overwhelming fears and doubts. Hope means being honest and true to oneself while seeking out positive outcomes. Hope has allowed me to see past my limitations, acknowledge that I am more than a sick person, and continue to have dreams.

Here are some positive ways that help me to remain hopeful despite chronic illness.

I am realistic in my expectations:
Being chronically ill for a number years, I have learned to be realistic. That doesn’t mean that I give up on hopes and dreams; it means that I understand that my illness puts a limit on what I can and cannot do. But, I am hopeful that I can do what I want to do for as long as I can within the limits of my physical ability.

I control my anger:
Anger affects your health and relationships and makes the prospect of hope seem daunting. Moreover, anger eventually leads to isolation and feeds depression. I miss the old me that was always delightful and lovable, but I don’t give up hope. I seek out healthy ways to deal with and manage my anger through focusing on my children, my career and my writing, even when my body doesn’t feel like cooperating. I prefer hopefulness over being angry and over spreading my anger to others.

I eliminate toxic relationships.
There is nothing more draining than a toxic relationship. People who constantly blame you for their problems, criticize your lifestyle, and make you feel bad about yourself are toxic. I have learned that these people strain my ability to be hopeful and optimistic about my future. Instead, I surround myself with people who make my life better simply by being in it and that help me to feel hopeful when I can't go at it alone.

I live in the present.
If we make the mistake of looking back to a past that involved good health or towards a future that feels uncertain, we lose hope. But hope reminds us that illness does not diminish our humanity. Choosing to live in present has given me patience, compassion, and appreciation for others and myself in spite of everything I have lost. Being hopeful keeps me from dwelling on the past and from feeling tormented by what I think the future should look like.

I participate in and cherish the good times.
There have been times where I have struggled to participate in the real world—whether it was spending time with loved ones or focusing on my career. However, I have learned that participating in life allows me to be hopeful so that I can enjoy my life and make memories. These are the moments in our lives that we can cherish, hold on to, and reach for when chronic illness makes life hard. Having hope allows us to fully participate in life and to seek out the positives in a life that isn’t necessarily easy.

Respond With Hope

There is no right or wrong way to seek out hope in the face of difficult health challenges. The only right thing to do is to remain an active participant in your own life, and remember that hope is unique because it is adaptable and accommodating. Hope changes, as do our lives, our hopes, and our dreams. When you find yourself looking for hope that seems nonexistent, reexamine what it is that is making you feel hopeless. We cannot change certain outcomes, but we choose how to respond. That response can be to seek out hope.

Remember, you are not alone. None of us are. We don’t know each other, but we are all kindred spirits in this journey we call chronic illness, and we all know what it takes to make this journey easier. I wish you a safe and happy journey on the road to hope, and I will travel it with you, as your hopeful companion.

For more on coping with epilepsy:

Stop Epilepsy From Killing Your Relationship
Adjusting Expectations to Meet the Reality of Epilepsy
Nine Things Chronically Ill People Want Loved Ones to Know

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