Coping versus adapting to life with chronic illness and pain. As someone who has lived twenty-plus years with psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, fibromyalgia, and endometriosis, I can tell you that coping alone is not enough. Although coping was and is the term I hear the most, both are important, but for very different reasons.
Living with chronic illness and pain brings about numerous challenges that require constant adjustments to our daily routines and lifestyles. Often, we find ourselves teetering between coping and adapting in order to maintain a sense of normalcy and comfort.
In today’s post, we’ll explore the differences between coping and adapting while living with chronic illness and pain, and the benefits of moving from a reactive mindset to a proactive one, acknowledging our limits, and redefining our lives with these conditions in mind.
Disclaimer: This blog post contains affiliate links. I am an Amazon and Walmart affiliate. I may earn a small commission to fund my Disney obsession if you use these links to make a purchase. You will not be charged extra and will keep me supplied with Pixie dust and Mickey pretzels. It’s a win for everyone. I am not a medical professional, and nothing stated in this article should be mistaken for medical advice…
The Difference Between Coping and Adapting to Chronic Illness
The Oxford English Dictionary defines coping as “the action or process of overcoming a problem or difficulty” or “managing or enduring a stressful situation or condition,” and adapting as “rendering suitable, modifying.”
Coping with chronic illness and pain tends to involve short-term strategies that address immediate symptoms or problems. This may include taking medication, seeking temporary relief such as rest or heat therapy, and making minor adjustments to one’s schedule or nutrition. While coping mechanisms are crucial for maintaining your well-being during flare-ups or setbacks, they may not be sustainable for the long haul.
Adapting, on the other hand, requires a more pronounced shift in perspective, recognizing how chronic illness and pain impact your life on a long-term basis. Rather than attempting to fit your previous life into your current health circumstances, adapting means reconfiguring your routines, goals, and expectations to fit a life with chronic illness and pain. This could entail reevaluating relationships, career trajectories, or lifestyle choices that may no longer be suitable or feasible.
What I have learned in my twenty-plus years of living with chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia, endometriosis, psoriasis, and psoriatic arthritis is that adapting to life with chronic illness is NOT about learning how to fit pain, symptoms, and treatments into your life. It is about learning how to create a life that fits into a life with chronic illness and pain. Coping gets me through the moment while adapting is what will get me through the rest of my life.
Acceptance and Acknowledgment
One of the primary steps in moving from coping to adapting is acknowledging the reality of your chronic illness and pain. This involves accepting your energy levels, limitations, and the fact that your conditions may be with you for the long term. The sooner you start recognizing your illnesses as an integral part of your life, the more proactive you can be in addressing their impact.
Acknowledgment alone, however, is not enough. It is also essential to grieve the loss of your previous life in order to gain a sense of closure and acceptance. This process can be challenging and emotional, but it paves the way for a more mindful and constructive adaptation.
Begin Adapting to Life with Chronic Illness by Prioritizing and Planning
Once you’ve accepted your chronic illness and pain as a part of your life, you can begin to prioritize your goals according to your physical, emotional, and mental capabilities. This may mean setting new limits on activities and engagements or, in some instances, choosing to let go of dreams or plans that may have been important before your diagnosis. Tough pill to swallow, but a reality that cannot be ignored.
Develop realistic and achievable goals, taking into account your energy levels, pain threshold, and triggers. Break these goals down into smaller, manageable steps, and celebrate each milestone as you achieve it.
Adapting to life with chronic illness and pain is not a journey you should have to undertake alone. Seek support from friends, family, and healthcare professionals who can help lighten your load, provide useful advice, or simply lend a listening ear. Joining support groups can also be invaluable for connecting with others going through similar experiences, allowing you to share advice, insights, and encouragement.
Furthermore, consider working with a therapist or counselor who specializes in chronic illness and pain management, as they can provide invaluable guidance in managing anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation associated with these conditions.
Self-compassion and Flexibility
Adapting to life with chronic illness and pain involves being flexible and embracing change. This means acknowledging that plans may need to shift, that activities may need to be canceled or altered, and that our energy levels may vary from day to day.
Give yourself the grace to accept that not every day will be a good one. Illnesses might flare up unexpectedly, or the limitations of chronic pain may become more pronounced. Embrace self-compassion and remember that you are doing the best you can, given the circumstances.
Be open to the idea that your plans and priorities may change in response to evolving health circumstances. Allow room for flexibility, adaptability, and resilience as you navigate the ever-shifting landscape of living with chronic illness and pain. This will enable you to fully live your life and continue to grow, even amidst the challenges you face.
Finding Joy and Purpose in Everyday Life
Rather than attempting to fit chronic illness and pain into our lives, adapting means weaving our lives around it, allowing us to discover new sources of joy, purpose, and fulfillment. This may involve exploring hobbies, engaging in mindfulness practices, or connecting with others experiencing similar challenges. By finding activities that align with our passions and energy levels, we can gain a sense of mastery over our circumstances while embracing life with all its complexities.
Related reading: How To Adapt To Chronic illness Life Without Losing Hope
Final Thoughts on Adapting to Life with Chronic Illness
Ultimately, embracing life with chronic illness and pain requires a delicate balance of both coping and adapting. By acknowledging and accepting our conditions’ realities and limitations, we can better adapt our goals and priorities in ways that are sustainable for the long term. Through self-compassion, flexibility, and seeking support from others, we can navigate the challenges of living with chronic conditions and find a renewed sense of purpose and possibility. Remember, adapting is not about giving up but rather about making the most of your life amidst the challenges you face.
Visit my Etsy Store for printable chronic illness journals, trackers, worksheets, phone wallpaper, affirmations, and more!