No matter what the diagnosis, finding out that you have a chronic illness can be a frightening and confusing experience. Following are 10 steps, provided by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, to help people cope with the news more easily:
1. Educate yourself about the disease. You owe it to yourself to know as much as possible. Contact health organizations specific to your illness, such as the National MS Society, for comprehensive information. The Internet, bookstores and the library are also great resources.
2. Choose a health care provider that is right for you. Even before making your first appointment, make a list of questions to ask. Some great basic questions often overlooked are:
• Does the provider accept my health insurance?
• What do I need to bring to my first appointment? (e.g., a list of your medications, recent lab reports, MRI scans, etc.)
• Approximately how many other people with my condition does this provider see in a year?
• If the primary professional is not available, who helps me?
3. Compare treatments and make an informed decision with your health care provider. Starting on a medication soon after diagnosis is often the best defense for many diseases. In the case of multiple sclerosis, treatment can often slow its effects.
4. Connect with others to build a good support system. You are not alone. Interacting with others in your community or nationwide who are living with or affected by the same disease can help you in choosing the right health care provider, an important factor when coping with a chronic illness. Join self-help groups (either in person or online) and get involved in programs and events through local health organizations.
5. Think about how and when you’ll tell your family, friends and colleagues. Many diseases affect not only the person with the illness, but everyone who cares about him/her as well. Having at least one friend or family member who knows what you’re going through can ease the burden, and can help you decide how much to tell other people. It is also important to remember that the whole world doesn’t need to know about your diagnosis. Disclosure may sometimes result in prejudice, ignorance and even rejection. Contact the National MS Society [(800) FIGHT-MS] for information on disclosure issues such as how and when to tell whom about your disease.
6. Take care of yourself through healthy living. For a person living with an illness, the road to wellness involves more than medical treatment of the disease; exercise, good nutrition and preventative care are vital elements in maintaining a satisfying life, just as is true for the general public.
7. Make wise career choices. Knowing your company’s policies and your employment rights could help maximize your options before possible problems arise.
8. Plan for your financial future. Since many diseases pose uncertainties about the future, don’t wait to formulate your financial plans, evaluate insurance coverage and examine other practical issues.
9. Make your voice heard! Joining disease advocacy groups is an important step. By joining programs, such as the MS Action Network you can receive federal and state legislative alerts about issues that are important to you and your way of life. Becoming an activist is the best way to ensure that the needs of those with chronic diseases are considered when important decisions are made in the private and public sector.
10. Take a walk. Or a bike ride. Many nonprofits organize group activities that are both fun and raise money and awareness for their causes.