Today’s columnist, Dr Mary Wren: Living with chronic illness

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I think that people who live with chronic illness are often heroes! I have some experience of chronic pain and restriction, but nothing compared to many people. 


Pain is exhausting emotionally and physically and restriction is frustrating and depressing. 
So how can we help people to live well, with chronic illness? 
Firstly it’s good to remember you are not your illness. Separate yourself as a person from it.
 So you are a fun, feisty lady who happens to have arthritic joints. 
Or a strong, brave man who happens to find it hard not to drink too much. Don’t own your illness. 
Then you may need to stop trying so hard to please people or meet expectations. Sometimes you need to rest and sleep more, say “no” more. 
It may be that some people will never fully understand and accepting that helps. 
Try and surround yourself with people who are positive and encouraging. 
People who accept you as you are but are not frightened to challenge you sometimes if you are getting too inward looking.
Doing something that focuses on giving out to others will help you more than you realise. 
Laughter helps. Laughter eases pain and also lifts the mood.
You may need to let go of some things you enjoyed but you can learn new things-new hobbies and interests to keep you entertained. 
Look at what you can do rather than what you can’t and be grateful for the little things in the day. 
I know a lady who has learnt to fly a plane, even though she is in a wheelchair. 
Hold onto things lightly and be willing to let go of some things and embrace others as well. 
Some things are out of our control but there are many things we can think or do differently, which helps.
I really believe that some people who are physically disabled and restricted are more whole and well than many physically fit people. Health isn’t just about our physical bodies -it is about who we are inside too. 
How we choose to react, think, hope, love, give will all affect how healthy we are. And sometimes when we choose to change the inside things we find the physical, outside things improve as well.
So don’t despair if you have a chronic illness- stay flexible, look for the good in each day and above all be kind to yourself. 
Many of the most inspirational people have struggled with ill health and disability-so keep that hope.