Don’t Let a Chronic Condition Get You Down

Chronic conditions can make life challenging, but “challenging” does not have to mean “unfulfilled.”

Happy, healthy lives may sound almost impossible when you or someone you love is managing a chronic condition, but many people meet this challenge every day. Roughly six out of 10 adults in the United States are living with a chronic disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and four out of 10 are living with two or more chronic diseases.

Risk factors for some chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, can be reduced by living a healthy lifestyle. Others, such as chronic pain, may have no clear cause. In either case, living with a chronic condition can make everyday life feel like a long, uphill climb.

The following specialists in diabetes management, chronic wound care, and chronic pain discuss some of the ways their patients who live with chronic conditions make their lives enriching and enjoyable.

“Stick with your loved ones throughout their journey of living with a chronic illness. You can’t help that they have an illness, but you can help them enjoy life.”

Toni McCutcheon, Program Director at the Center for Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital

Balancing Life with Diabetes

Diabetes is an increasingly common chronic illness. As of 2015, more than 30 million Americans are living with diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. For some patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the constant, strict monitoring and management of dietary habits, exercise routines, and blood sugar levels can feel overwhelming.

“There’s a lot of stress in diabetes management,” says Carly Overgard, FNP-C, Family Nurse Practitioner at OakLeaf Clinics, who is living with type 1 diabetes herself. “Everything affects your blood sugar levels. Sometimes, you feel like you’re trying your hardest, but your disease has its own plan.”

A healthy lifestyle can help people manage both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. According to Overgard, maintaining a balance of health and happiness is essential.

“We want to incorporate the patient’s disease into their life,” she explains. “We work with the patient to make sure we do what’s right for them. We don’t just aim for the right numbers, but the best quality of life.”

To Overgard, a fulfilled life for someone living with a chronic illness is simple: it is a life like anyone else’s. Sometimes that means carefully monitoring diet and exercise. At other times, it means allowing yourself a slice of cake at a party.

“If your plan to treat your chronic illness controls your life, it’s time to reevaluate,” she says. “We want every one of our patients to enjoy a full and happy life.”

Giving Chronic Wounds Room to Heal

A full and happy life includes having emotional and social support, which the staff and providers at the HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital Center for Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine program seek to provide.

“Having support, whether from friends, family members, or your healthcare team, can make all the difference,” says Toni McCutcheon, Program Director at the Center for Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital. “There’s a strong correlation between mental and physical health, so we make sure to take care of both.”

“Toni’s been really active about finding support groups for our patients,” adds Jess Zingshiem, RN, WCC, Clinical Nurse Manager at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital. “We also seek to ensure each patient sees the same nurse each time, so they form a relationship that enhances the feeling of being supported.”

Wounds are considered chronic if they fail to heal 14 weeks after starting treatment. In some cases, chronic wounds remain unhealed for years or even decades.

“With a long-term wound, one of our main goals is to provide comfort,” Zingshiem says. “Patients sometimes feel very self-conscious, so in addition to treating them, we offer emotional support and the assurance that they will get better.”

“Everyone in our clinics has a passion for helping patients heal,” McCutcheon says. “We are successful because our staff is full of people like Jess who care about our patients’ mental and physical well-being.”

“It’s important to tailor the plan of care to each patient so that he or she can live a healthy, fulfilling life.”

Carly Overgard, FNP-C, Family Nurse Practitioner at OakLeaf Clinics

Mind, Body and Soul

McCutcheon and Zingshiem’s approach of integrating mental and physical health is both wise and effective. The body and the mind are connected, and when one is hurting, the other may also suffer. People with chronic conditions are more likely to develop depression than those without chronic conditions, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Many patients experiencing chronic pain also report symptoms of depression, anger, or low self-esteem.

“Those with chronic pain often struggle with not being able to live the life they want to live,” says Angela M. Pedretti, MA, NCC, LPC, Licensed Professional Counselor at Prevea Behavioral Health. “Chronic pain affects daily routines, recreational activities, and time with friends and family.”

Patients experiencing chronic pain or other chronic conditions may also encounter the social stigma of having an “invisible illness.”

“It’s important for people to realize that chronic pain and other conditions affect every aspect of a person’s life,” Pedretti says. “Holistic approaches to pain management take each of those aspects into account—physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual.”

A fulfilled life includes mental health, and Pedretti says patients with chronic pain should remain vigilant for symptoms of anxiety or depression.

“You deserve a long and happy life,” she says. “If your providers do not understand your pain and cannot help improve your life, continue searching until you find providers who can.”

Chronic conditions can make life challenging, but challenging doesn’t have to mean unfulfilled. Check out the HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s hospitals’ Community Health Restorative Health Series beginning March 10, 2020, with Living with Diabetes. Find more information here.

You may also be interested in “How to Put Pain Into Words.”