Chronic illness: Loss and Change
"Celebrate Life: New Attitudes For Living With Chronic Illness" by Kathleen Lewis focuses on the life-altering aspects of chronic illness. The diagnosis of a chronic illness is really the beginning of a journey which will be punctuated with loss and change. On the subject of loss, Kathleen Lewis wrote, "Your losses may include health, fantasies of immortality, privacy, control, role identity, independence, means of productivity or self-fulfillment, self-image, dreams or goals for the future, relationships, old ways of sexual expression, feeling good, undisturbed sleep, play or recreational activities, and energy, among many others."
Grieve, don't suppress feelings
As chronic illness is integrated into a person's life, the magnitude of loss diminishes feelings of control over one's own life. Lewis wrote, "Research shows that people who actively grieve their diagnosis do better than those people who suppress, repress or deny the feelings of grief."
The first half of Lewis' book is geared toward people who are newly diagnosed with a chronic illness. It speaks to those people who feel like they have hit a wall. Lewis makes sense out of the emotional changes that accompany the physical changes. She discusses "present- moment living" and "realistic hope", two concepts which are essential to living well with a chronic illness. Lewis wrote, "Realistic hope accepts what is, without eliminating the possibility of what might be. Recognize your limitations and explore your strengths."
Kathleen Lewis also explores how chronic illness affects relationships, and how emotional and social stress can become magnified and multiplied. She wrote, "More than the average person, you need an ongoing means of stress recovery. Building stress maintenance and release into your life every day is critical for your health."
Set new goals
The second half of the book is of even more interest to people who have lived with chronic illness for some time. A very significant chapter, called "Lifestyle Engineering", points out ways to manage stressors imposed by chronic illness. "Use realistic goals. If your illness has forced you to stop some activities, such as working full-time, that gave you a sense of accomplishment, you may now have to focus on another method of achievement", wrote Lewis.
People who have dealt with chronic illness for some time can assess how they manage their illness and accomplish new goals using Lewis' 4 P's: prioritizing, problem-solving, pacing, and planning. Yet another section of the book offers personality engineering techniques. "Active coping - assuming responsibility for yourself and acting on your own behalf - can actually change your body chemistry for the better", claims Lewis. "Accepting yourself as a blend of strengths and weaknesses, and embracing all aspects of yourself is a healing experience. This experience is not short-term and one-time, but an ongoing renewal", she continued.
Adjust to new reality
Other chapters offer advice on how to successfully adjust to life with a chronic illness by dealing with depression, exercising, music therapy, seeing a psychiatrist, keeping a journal, reading therapy, and more. Having lived with a chronic illness for over 26 years, the prevailing theme of Lewis' book is totally consistent with what my own experience has taught me. Chronic illness changes you. The person you once were is lost, a metamorphosis takes place, and you emerge as a new person. Kathleen Lewis teaches you how to celebrate the re-invention of you.