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Do you have a chronic condition? It could be physical, like diabetes and cancer, or mental, such as depression. Whatever your condition or conditions, your retirement can be as fun and fulfilling as others’. After all, don’t most of us have something in our later years?
Chronic conditions and identity
Before we go any further, think about this. You are not the same as your condition. Thinking that way dwells on your limitations. If my father had “become” arthritis at age 5 he’d have been a “cripple” all his life. He was not his illness, though it certainly shaped his life. Dad could not serve in the military because his hands were permanently gnarled, yet he became an excellent shot with a variety of weapons and excelled at playing highland bagpipes. He was a teacher, and many say a good one.
So you’re not to call yourself a diabetic if you have diabetes because being a diabetic closes out possibilities. It focuses on the wrong things. Sure, you have some parts of your lifestyle that are modified so you don’t suffer damage. That’s just self-preservation. But live your life! Pursue interests, have friends, go places, do things you enjoy.
A special shout out to those with conditions with stigma, such as mental illness or substance use disorders. Those of us who have conditions such as these are less apt to talk to others about them, but no less apt to judge ourselves for them. Our culture demands it. But you didn’t choose your condition any more than an ebola patient did; the condition happened to you and you can only do your best. Don’t be a depressive or an addict, be recovering. It does make a difference!
For more about depression in retirement click here.
Learn about your chronic condition
When you get diagnosed with some condition or other, ask your doctor for more information about it. Check that out and then hit the Internet for more. Use good, substantive websites like the CDC, WebMD, Mayo Clinic, or Harvard Health blog for general medical information. But don’t forget specialty groups like the American Cancer Society, where you can get targeted information for what you have.
Make questions about what you’ve read that still isn’t clear, run them by your doctor, rinse and repeat. Chances are in the early days of being diagnosed you will be seeing the doctor for it quite a bit so get informed.
Pay particular attention to the things you can do for your condition yourself through lifestyle changes. Again, be careful of your sources. It would not do to chase the perfect herbal cocktail while on medications for your condition. Herbs, while safe, are organic chemicals, as are medications. You could get too much of a good thing and have it go bad.
Not sure how to talk with your doctor? Try here for hints.
Learn your medications
If you are prescribed medication for your condition, pay attention to how they make you feel and, if you can, how well they’re working. With some it’s only side effects you would notice.
Many medications start out with side effects but they taper off after you’re on the medication a while. It’s important not to freak out about every little thing, but it’s also important to live normally. If your medication won’t let you get up out of a chair without a dizzy spell, tell your doctor. If you take it and you can’t breathe, call the ambulance. But if you read about possible hot flashes and have one, think about benefits and costs before demanding a change. You could get something worse!
And this is also important, though many people give it short shrift. Take your meds as directed. Really. With some of them, they only last so long and if you are trying to help your condition with them, you need to take them on schedule so the levels in your system stay up. Antibiotics in particular are this way, but insulin is another that wants certain levels.
Much of what doctors recommend for lifestyle changes to support living with a condition is just plain healthy living. Getting enough sleep, eating healthful food, getting exercise all help with whatever ails you.
Sometimes there are dietary recommendations that go with your condition. Some are as simple as avoiding grapefruit because it interacts badly with a medication you are on. Other conditions come with whole new strategies for feeding yourself. It’s best to work with a dietician to transition into that new way of eating. Sudden changes often irritate stomachs.
Exercise is another place where you may get special instructions. Generally everyone ought to get 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week. But if you have mobility problems, that’s a challenge. Try exercising in a pool, either alone or with a group. Check for exercise classes near you. Perhaps a yoga class would work for you.
A physical or occupational therapist might teach you exercises for improving and maintaining joint function so you can walk better or reach and grasp things on upper shelves. Keep up exercises you get from PTs and OTs, as well as from surgeons if they give them out. You don’t want to stiffen up and quit being able to do things.
It’s hard to make changes
If you are having trouble making the changes you need to make, seek out help with that. Clinics often offer programs to help people quit smoking, for example. Try out counseling if you’re struggling with changes. You can learn more positive ways to think about things so you don’t get overwhelmed and give up on life. You can also learn problem-solving techniques and skills like meditation, which helps with managing stress and pain.
Finally, peer support groups with other people who have the same condition as you give you the knowledge that you’re not alone. They can tell you what works for them and how to get it, and they will understand your troubles better than most people.
Whatever condition you may be managing in retirement, just follow through on your routines and your treatment. Make it your new normal; fit in your self-care. Then do what makes you happy. This is retirement. You have time for that now.
How can being retired help you live with your chronic condition?