Thursday, October 26, 2006

Coping Mechanisms of those with Chronic Illness

"Glass breaks so easily. No matter how careful you are."
(Part 4, Scene 7 Laura Wingfield)

--Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie"

Not until recently did I begin connecting with other people who have cystic fibrosis. Certainly I had known about others with CF, but because of cross-infection issues we weren't permitted to be around one another. Additionally, my parents had chosen--wisely I believe--not to engage in any sort of family counseling to "deal with" CF. Does this mean that we were in denial of the disease? In my opinion, no. For us, the best way to cope with CF was to learn how to cope with life in general, and that requires participating in life to the fullest extent possible.

A few months ago, after returning home after an unpleasant hospital stay, I began perusing the online cystic fibrosis support communities. At first I was thrilled to have discovered a resource that put so many people with similar experiences within easy reach. I quickly learned that just because we have the same experiences, our coping mechanisms are vastly different.

Some people choose the defeatist attitude. They don't embrace life because all they see is the big word "INCURABLE" in their minds when they think of cystic fibrosis.

Others lash out in anger. Their frustration of having CF and being limited by in it so many ways makes them unable to see the world beyond the end of their noses.

I have also observed that many CFers have nothing better to do all day than sit around in the message boards, clammoring for attention. They find a backwards sense of purpose and meaning in telling their sob stories to anyone who listens. I'm not talking about the people who truly are attempting to heal from a bad experience. I'm referring to those who outright refuse to put one foot in front of the other and make forward progress.

The few people I have have made friendly connections with thanks to the message boards and forums are nothing like the folks described above. There is a saying that "misery loves company" but since I do not consider myself miserable, I prefer to stay away from places that can drag me down emotionally. I only wish I had realized this about myself earlier. Because of my background of faith and the fact that I haven't been subjected to all the negativity of the "illness culture", I cope in different ways.

I cope by leaning on my family and friends. I cope through prayer. I cope by living normally and dealing with CF with as much routine as possible. I may be chronically ill--I know I'm certainly not invincible--but I choose to live in a world that isn't made of glass. I live in a world that's real, with its ups and downs, joys and disappointments. I cope by realizing that CF does not define me. My character defines me and that's what matters most.

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