Lana Barhum is a legal assistant, patient advocate, freelance writer, blogger, and single parent. She has lived with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia since 2008 and uses her experiences to share expert advice on living successfully with chronic illness.
Losing faith—especially in the midst of a serious illness—is a scary thing. You start to question everything you know. It feels like you have lost your footing and you have nothing to substantial to hold on to. It also feels like there is nothing to lift you when you fall, push you forward when it feels like you can’t keep going, and help you envision a bright future. It is, however, possible to have faith even when chronic illness takes so much.
What does keeping the faith mean, anyway?
We often associate the notion of “keeping the faith” with religion, but it is more than religious belief. In everyday life, it allows us to pursue some idea that is worthy but seems difficult to achieve in the face of adversity.
So many things in life are uncertain, but faith isn’t. And here you are faced with the adversity of an illness lingering over every aspect of your life. You could be a teen trying to be like everyone else, or a young adult beginning your career, or a married person in your 30s starting a family, or a single parent in your 40s, or someone ready to retire, and your life feels displaced by a medical condition that you never anticipated or could comprehend before.
With all the loss you face and lack of control over your life, how can you possibly have faith?
7 tips to help you keep the faith from the moment of diagnosis through the setbacks
1. Don’t lose yourself. It is hard to see any good in living with chronic illness and pain. It is easy to lose yourself when it seems like illness has so much power and control over your life. But there is always some positive, even in situations that seem the bleakest. Sometimes, we just have to convince ourselves of the possibilities. And while you may find yourself drained by what you are going through, these are the moments when your true strength shines. It is not always easy and it is not always fair, but it is all we have.
2. Pray or find your spiritual side. Finding meaning and purpose in your life is critical for your emotional and spiritual health. Spirituality improves your connection to God, or to a higher power, and it helps you to manage challenges in healthy and meaningful ways. In fact, praying or practicing meditation can help chronically ill people cope successfully, according to a 2011 study out of the University of Missouri.
3. Be willing to take leaps of faith. Chronic illness takes away a lot from us, but our lives are far from over. This becomes an opportunity to take leaps of faith that enrich your life. And rebuilding your life requires you to take risks and explore uncharted lands. It might be difficult to consider changing careers, or retiring early, or making different life plans due to failing health, but you won’t know what will happen if you don’t try. You may not succeed at everything, but those experiences will better your life and give you something else to consider besides your illness. And while all this might seem daunting, remember all it takes is a little awareness, creativity, and encouragement.
4. Eliminate toxic relationships. There is nothing more draining than a toxic relationship. People who blame you for their problems, who discount you, or who criticize your choices or lifestyle don’t belong in your life. Learn to establish healthy boundaries and rid your life of these kinds of people.
5. Forgive. There will always be people who fail you. It could be co-workers, so-called friends, and even loved ones. Forgive them and move on—for your sake, not theirs.
6. Be thankful. During tough times, it can be easy to get depressed and/or feel hopeless. Life’s blessings can be difficult to see when it seems like there are only grey skies above us. But having a thankful spirit can help you see the light amongst the darkness. Of course, it is not always easy, but try to purposely remind yourself of all life has given you—your loved ones, your ability to keep working, parents and/or grandparents who are still around, and so much more.
7. Share your gifts and talents. You have a lot to offer, so look for ways to share your talents and gifts with others. Volunteering will help improve your self-esteem, help you overcome isolation, and contribute to feelings of value and self-worth.
Have faith in yourself and others
The human spirit cannot be broken. It is strong enough to overcome almost everything. We are all pillars of strength, but we have to be willing to invoke that strength and have faith in ourselves, our loved ones, and the universe.
Things happen that hurt us, and change can be forced. And while we would like to shut the world out and give up, we shouldn’t. We all deserve better. And so do you. But if you find that you are often feeling like you are struggling to gain footing, talk to a therapist who can help you resolve your feelings and anxieties toward your illness.