What do you think of when you hear the phrase “gluten-free”?

Most people often get pictures in their heads of celebrities or bloggers trying the new fad diet.

Most people don’t visualize those individuals spending hours at the hospital caused by one crumb or the myriad of other side effects that come with the chronic illness Celiac Disease.

This happens with many other chronic illnesses as well. 

People often only see the put-together image of a person with chronic illness and not the struggle behind the scenes.

So what is a chronic illness/disease? The CDC defines it as, “non-communicable illnesses that are prolonged in duration, do not resolve spontaneously, and are rarely cured completely.” 

A chronic illness is a condition that will last long term or for the rest of your life. They are often invisible to the naked eye and contain a lot of side effects in addition to the original symptoms.

The impact of chronic illness goes beyond the symptoms and can affect mental health in a negative capacity. A study in the CDC states, “One common finding is that people who suffer from a chronic disease are more likely to also suffer from depression.”

Why is that? 

Chronic illnesses come with many limitations on what you can do, what you can eat, and what activities you can participate in. It can feel as though it separates you from your friend group and even family.

There is a pressure to be “normal” and continue as though nothing is wrong despite the new or long-time limitations from your chronic illness. 

For many of us with chronic illnesses, there is a long period of trying to accept the new normal that is our lives and set boundaries on what we can and cannot do.

An article in the ADAA states, “many people report that acceptance comes from a combination of three things: recognizing that something cannot be changed, consciously working to adjust expectations, and actively seeking more satisfaction and meaning in the things you can do.” 

This look at limitations and adjusting expectations can be a struggle to accept—and is a long process in understanding your new life. This requires honest conversations with friends and family about what your limitations are and what you need from your support system.

To help you adjust to living with your chronic illness, mindfulness can play a large role.

Being mindful of your feelings, how you are reacting to those feelings, and if you need to reorient your focus is a key aspect of being mindful. Mindfulness can help you come to terms with your boundaries that need to be in place for you. 

Often chronic illnesses are invisible adding another layer of a struggle for people to understand what you are going through.

When there is no physical representation of your illness this often brings doubt to other people’s minds that your symptoms or the effects of the chronic illness is what you really say they are. 

Often people unfamiliar with a chronic illness will say things such as: “you look fine to me”, “that’s not a real thing”, or “why don’t you just get over it?”.

This questioning can affect your mental health as it feels no one truly understands what you’re going through. This can often distract you from the people who do support you and care for you through this process. 

The ADAA states, “Anyone who lives with chronic illness knows it isn’t easy. But it’s important to remember that you hold the ability to improve your situation by focusing on changing what you can, accepting what you can’t, and relying on others when you need to.”

Living with a chronic illness and all its challenges is not the end of the world despite how it sometimes feels; with the support of family, friends, and support groups specially made for chronic illnesses there is a way to adjust to your new normal.  

Sarah Jane Atikinson
Sarah Jane is studying graphic design and creative writing at Queens University of Charlotte. She loves spending time in the outdoors and reading a good book. On any given day she’d like to be designing, playing with a cat, or drinking a nice cup of tea. Find her on Instagram (sj_atkinson) or LinkedIn.

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