Coping with Chronic Illness: Specialist Toby Dauber on Becoming Stronger and Living a Fulfilling Life

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Specialist Toby Dauber with Morris Psychological Group provides insight and tips for patients coping with chronic illness.

Toby Dauber, LCSW

Those who are most successful learn to accept a new reality and make it the foundation of a rewarding, fulfilling life.

More than 130 million Americans are living with chronic conditions and illnesses, a number that is expected to increase to 157 million by 2020. Advances in medical science have enabled more people to survive acute illness and live long lives with chronic conditions. Also contributing to the increase is the aging of the population. While the majority of those with chronic conditions are under 65, the likelihood of suffering from a chronic condition increases with age. “Chronic illness affects each patient's physical and mental health differently,” says Toby G. Dauber, licensed clinical social worker with Morris Psychological Group. “Some conditions are more severely disabling than others. Some, like diabetes, are not immediately disabling but pose a serious long-term threat if not treated promptly and effectively. But in all cases, patients diagnosed with a chronic condition must cope with loss and change. Those who are most successful learn to accept a new reality and make it the foundation of a rewarding, fulfilling life.”

Chronic illnesses can produce a wide variety of symptoms -- from pain and fatigue to memory loss and cognitive impairment – and impose various limitations on the patient's life. Many people suffer symptoms for months or even years before finally getting a correct diagnosis but the sense of relief that comes from finally putting a name to the problem is often followed by a deep sense of loss and grief. “Grief following a crushing diagnosis is normal,” says Ms. Dauber. “In addition to suffering physical changes, patients feel that they no longer have control over their lives and they are fearful about the future. A period of active grieving is a natural part of the process of adjustment and is preferable to suppressing or denying feelings of grief.”

“Despite the challenges of living with a chronic condition, even those people with severe disabilities can and do live full and rewarding lives,” Ms. Dauber continued. “The key is for each individual to focus on what she can do rather than on what has been lost and to build on those abilities. We suggest following this set of guidelines to help adjust to a 'new normal.'”

Tips for Coping with Chronic Illness

  • Be an informed patient. Learn as much as you can about your condition. The more you know, the more you will feel able to control the disease rather than letting it control you. Make sure you trust your medical team and feel comfortable asking questions. If unsure, seek a second opinion and don't hesitate to fire your doctor and hire a new one.
  • Adjust your priorities. Sort out what's really important and let go of everything else. Don't let your self-esteem suffer by holding yourself to your old standards. Those who cope best with chronic illness are able to adjust to a new reality and find new ways to define success.
  • Be good to yourself. Get enough sleep, eat well, indulge in small luxuries, express your feelings. Don't let illness crowd fun out of your life.
  • Accept help. Just say “yes” to offers of help with everyday activities. And remember that emotional support is just as important as practical help. Guard against feelings of isolation by nurturing relationships with those who are most understanding.
  • Be alert to signs of depression. While the grieving period following diagnosis will be different for everyone, lasting symptoms of depression – loss of interest in pleasurable activities, extreme anxiety, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite – signal the need for professional help. “The psychological distress of having a chronic illness can itself be disabling and can impede progress in combating the disease,” says Ms. Dauber. “In therapy, we help people adjust and discover new avenues to happiness and a fulfilling life.”

“It's important to be aware that emotional and psychological changes accompany the physical effects of chronic illness,” Ms. Dauber concludes. “Effectively dealing with those changes can make all the difference for the patient's health and quality of life. In fact, unlikely as it sounds, many people have reinvented themselves and actually used their illness as a catalyst for growth.”

Toby G. Dauber, L.C.S.W., has more than 25 years of experience working with adolescents and adults, specializing in coping with chronic illness, parenting, stress management and sex therapy.

Morris Psychological Group, P.A. offers a wide range of therapy and evaluation services to adults, children and adolescents.

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Melissa Chefec
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