Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
That was the one-word answer Terry received from her doctor when she asked her how long she would need to follow the regimen she was being prescribed. Terry felt like she had been hit with a lot all at once. First, a new medical diagnosis, followed by perpetual medications.
That was a pretty straightforward answer, right? When her doctor saw how disappointed Terry was with her response, her doctor added, “But of course I can’t predict the future. You never know what medical science may come up with.”
Those additional words weren’t very comforting to Terry. She felt like the word “forever” was stamped on her forehead—a message to herself and everyone else that she would be living with this condition for life. With daily reminders in the form of pill bottles front and center in her medicine cabinet.
Behind the feelings
“What upsets you about going on this regimen?” her doctor asked. “It’s going to help you feel better.”
Terry thought for a moment before answering. And then she said, “A lot of things are upsetting about this. Forever is a big word. If I am going to follow the regimen you have given me, my life is not going to be as spontaneous as it used to be. I will have to remember to have my medications with me, and to take them at the right times. I’m going to worry that they’re not working like they are supposed to, or that they might cause long-term side effects. And I’m going to be worrying that they might stop working at some point. Other people are going to notice that I’m taking pills and they might ask me questions I don’t want to answer. And then they’ll think of me as a sick person. How’s that for a start?”
Then Terry asked her doctor, “Can you see how scary forever is to me?”
Her doctor said, “These medications are going to help you, Terry. I hope you will remember that.”
Facing forever a day at a time
What about you? What does “forever” conjure up for you when you think about medications you may need to take for the foreseeable future? If you’ve been recently diagnosed, you might feel a lot like Terry. If you’ve been on your regimen for a while, “forever” may not be such a scary word for you. Or maybe it still is a scary word.
Here are some ideas for coping with the idea of being on your regimen indefinitely:
Avoid catastrophic “what if” thinking. When you’re first starting a medication regimen, it’s only human nature for your mind to go off in all kinds of directions as you think about what your life might be like as you travel this new road. But keep in mind that when there is a lack of information, our minds have a way of filling in the gaps. Often with stories about what we imagine could be the worst possible outcome. Remind yourself that you just plain old don’t know what living with your new regimen is going to be like. Anything is possible, including the possibility that you will do a good job of figuring out this new normal you have ahead of you.
Break your new regimen down into the daily tasks. With the changes that a new regimen will introduce into your life, it’s all too easy to sort of turn the whole prospect into one big inconvenience. So take a step back and dig into the details of what it’s going to mean on a daily basis. Sure, it’s going to mean change. But just what does that change mean? Can you see it as smaller steps that are more manageable? Think in terms of what and when on a daily basis.
While you’re at it, also identify what aspects of staying on top of your regimen may be most challenging. Let’s be realistic here. Your regimen may pose some challenges for you, like having to take a pill at a specific time of the day. Or having to perform a procedure or test on yourself, causing some discomfort or inconvenience. Be realistic as you consider your new regimen—no sugarcoating required.
Come up with a strategy for maintaining adherence. Consider everything you will need to do to maintain adherence with your new regimen. And then map out a strategy for keeping your regimen on track. You might want to get some advice from your doctor, as well as family members or friends whose judgment you trust.
Identify the benefits. What is your daily regimen getting you? Yes, I know, it’s helping you to avoid symptoms, feel better, or both. But let’s get more specific. Can you name ten things your regimen makes possible? Here are some ideas: Keeping up with your kids. Getting through the day at work. Doing something you especially enjoy. You might want to keep a list of benefits around to review when you are having an especially hard day.
Stay informed. Learn everything about your regimen. Jump on the Internet. Ask your doctor questions. Knowledge is power.
Don’t go through this alone. Ask for help if you need it. Emotional support. Reminders. Gentle accountability. And someplace to vent when you’re having a particularly frustrating day. Chances are your loved ones want to help. They may be waiting for you to let them know what you need. Get a support team in place so you aren’t traveling alone on the road ahead. Support is power!
You and your regimen. Chronic conditions require ongoing treatment. Embrace your regimen as the key to helping you live the best life possible. Keep your focus on making the best of your regimen. Today. The future unfolds one day at a time.
What helps you face living with and caring for your chronic condition indefinitely? Take a moment to add a comment and share your thoughts.