Being diagnosed with a chronic illness can feel like a life sentence. After all, the word ‘chronic’ by definition refers to a continuing event; something that occurs again and again for a long time; or something that’s always present.
The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention defines chronic illness as a health condition that lasts one year or more, requires ongoing medical attention and/or limits your daily functioning. Generally, people with chronic illnesses like arthritis, COPD, epilepsy and kidney disease cannot be cured by medication, only manage their daily symptoms.
Does that imply that having a chronic illness means you can never recover again?
Whether or not you could recover from chronic illness depends on many things: your specific disease and its causes, the available treatment options, your age and personal health situation. Not all of these things are within your power to change. But it also depends on something that you can control: your definition of recovery.
You see, most people view ‘recovery from illness’ as being fully healed. In this ideal scenario, you’ll be able to return to your former state of health and resume your daily activities once you’re better again. But unfortunately, that’s not always an option.
No matter how hard you try, sometimes the natural healing process just doesn’t kick in. Your disease is too complex, the medical options insufficient, your body too weakened or damaged. Maybe you do get ‘better’, but you’re stuck with residual symptoms like lasting fatigue after cancer.
But that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do to improve your health and happiness. Small lifestyle changes like getting more restorative sleep at night will boost your mood, energy levels and immunity. And being able to move around on foot again can literally open up a world of possibilities. If you’d like concrete ideas on how to start rebuilding your health, make sure you check out my ebook ‘How to Create Your Own Action Plan for Recovery’.
In my eyes, the standard definition of recovery is too limiting for most people with chronic illness. What if we acknowledge more stages, dimensions and variations of recovery than simply ‘being healed’? Instead of a fixed final destination you may never reach, recovery could refer to any physical or emotional improvement that’s meaningful to you. That includes things like a better quality of life or being able to do something you couldn’t do before.
Here are 11 examples of meaningful definitions of recovery that may be within your reach.
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11 Alternative Definitions of Recovery from Chronic Illness
1. Becoming more independent. It can be incredibly rewarding to be able to look after yourself and tend to your basic needs again. From cooking healthy meals to cleaning your home, doing things yourself can be a huge step up from your current situation.
2. Picking up your favorite hobby. Doing things you enjoy instead of spending all your energy on getting through the day counts just as much as recovery as reaching a fitness milestone.
3. Improving your mobility. Being able to walk around town, jumping back on your bicycle or getting on the driver’s seat again all make your world a little bigger and more interesting.
4. Prioritizing your mental health. Recovery isn’t just about physical restoration, your state of mind matters too. Feeling enthusiastic and motivated despite your challenges, experiencing inner peace and having resilience all count as meaningful breakthroughs in your recovery journey.
5. Getting back to school or returning to work (part-time) are big milestones worth celebrating!
6. Having fun with friends and family. It doesn’t matter if you manage to go out for dinner or just hang around the house together. Reconnecting with your favorite people can have a huge impact on your quality of life.
7. Sticking to a healthy habit. Changing your behavior is hard, and having a chronic illness does not make things easier. When you’ve just started practicing mindfulness or yoga, you probably don’t notice results immediately. But these routines will improve your health and happiness in the long run, so sticking to your healthy habits is definitely an important achievement.
8. Boosting your brain functioning. Brain fog, memory problems and difficulties focusing are often-overlooked aspects of chronic illness. But being able to read a book again, write emails and navigate traffic safely makes it much easier to function in everyday life.
9. Making your dreams come true despite your health problems. No matter if you want to go on the trip of a lifetime, dance at your wedding or pursue your passions, achieving your goals fills your heart with joy. And what’s better than that?
10. Finding alternative ways to add meaning and purpose to your days. You don’t have to work a (socially responsible) job or volunteer to make a change in the world. Even if you’re sick, you can craft a meaningful life. Whether you adopt a new eco-friendly habit or start a blog with helpful tips for fellow spoonies, the simplest things can have a significant impact on others.
11. Learning to accept your current situation without giving up hope for a better tomorrow is a huge accomplishment in my book.
Hopefully, creating your own definition of recovery helps you focus on celebrating all the tiny achievements on your way. Because when progress is slow, it can be hard to see how far you’ve already come.
A recent study shows that writing down even the smallest wins activates the reward circuitry in your brains, giving you a feeling of accomplishment. What’s more, the release of feel-good chemicals will motivate you to take even more action towards your big goal. So don’t forget to recognize all your achievements, big or small – with the amazing Everyday Bravery pins from Emily McDowell for example!
How do you want to define recovery?