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Coping With A Chronic Illness In Your 20s

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness can be devastating. It is normal to experience a wide range of emotions after the diagnosis...


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“Behind every chronic illness is just a person trying to find their way in the world. We want to find love and be loved and be happy just like you. We want to be successful and do something that matters. We’re just dealing with unwanted limitations in our hero’s journey.

~ Glenn Schweitzer

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness (i.e. high blood pressure, asthma, migraines, Lupus, arthritis, diabetes, etc.) in your 20s can be devastating. As a result, it is normal – and even expected – to experience a wide range of conflicting and confusing emotions after the diagnosis. This is especially true if you are still young and at the height of your life.

Psychological and emotional distress

Research suggests that young adults, who experience high levels of stress before being diagnosed with a chronic illness and those who have a personal or family history of depression or anxiety, have a higher risk of psychological and emotional distress (i.e. feelings of despair, anger, frustration, mood swings, confusion, anxiety, and depression) than those without these factors.

Still, even young adults who have little-to-no stress in their lives can be “thrown-off” after being diagnosed with a chronic condition, especially if they have been fairly healthy and stress-free for most of their lives.

Processing the news of being diagnosed with a chronic illness in your 20s

Regardless of one’s previous health status or stress level, processing the news can trigger a variety of perplexing thoughts and emotions. You have your whole life ahead of you, after all. For instance, a young adult, who has recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure, may begin to blame himself or herself for the diagnosis, leading to feelings of embarrassment, shame, and guilt.

(Not so) “Good Grief”

Another common emotion linked to a chronic illness is grief. Once you have been diagnosed with a condition that will most likely never go away, you grieve all of the things you thought you’d do – even if in reality you’ll still be able to do most, if not all, of those things. At the time it may feel like your life is over and that’s crushing, especially if you’re just beginning to live your life as an adult.

As you grieve over the life you could have had, you can experience a myriad of emotions, such as denial, bargaining, anger, and despair. Eventually, however, you’ll reach a place of acknowledgment and acceptance. Once you reach this stage, you’ll be able to better cope with your condition and live your life to the fullest.

You can cope with your condition and still go on to accomplish your goals and fulfill your dreams. You can have the life you always wanted – with a few extra precautions.

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Actionable Steps


Read the longer version

You can learn more about coping with a chronic illness in your 20s by reading the following articles: 10 Steps for Coping with a Chronic Condition by Harvard Health, 13 Reasons Why Coping with Chronic Illness is Hard by The Frozen Mind, The Extra Burdens Faced by Young People with Chronic Illness by Psychology Today, and Young Adults With Chronic Illness: How Can We Improve Transitions to Adult by AAP.


Ask lots of questions about your chronic illness

A good way to cope with your chronic condition is to ask lots of questions. Before you go to your doctor’s appointment, sit down in a quiet place and write down all of your questions in a notebook or on a sheet of paper. Then, ask your nurse or doctor these questions. Don’t forget to listen to the answers – even if you don’t like them.
If you want to learn more information about your condition – i.e. symptoms, diagnosis methods, treatments, prognosis, precautions, etc., ask your doctor if he or she can print-off some information for you or suggest reliable, factual, and credible sites you can use to do more in-depth research on the condition.
Once home, make a list of these sites on your phone or on a piece of paper and put it in a safe place so you can pull it out when you need it. Knowing the ins-and-outs of your condition can help you feel more empowered in life.
The more you know about your specific chronic condition, the better equipped you’ll be to cope with it in a healthy way. Also, don’t forget to ask your doctor for ways you can be proactive or aid in your treatment.


Be proactive about your health in your 20s despite your chronic illness

You’ll want to more proactive about your health and do things that will help your condition and aid in your treatment. Although there will probably be a lot that you cannot control, there are changes you can make that could make a real difference in your symptoms and health.
Some of these lifestyle changes may include: adopting a healthier diet, drinking lots of water, engaging in a regular exercise routine, quitting smoking and illegal substances –i.e. pot, cocaine/coke, heroin, too much alcohol, etc.
You can also take your medications as prescribed – not just when you feel like it. In addition, if you are a little, moderate, or extremely overweight, losing the excess pounds could lessen the oxidative stress on your body, possibly reducing your symptoms and improving your condition. Being proactive with your health can make coping with a chronic illness in your 20s easier. It may even allow you to resume many of your old activities. 
According to a recent study, young adults who make the necessary lifestyle changes are more likely to cope and manage their chronic conditions more successfully.


Include your family in your coping strategy

To effectively cope with a chronic illness diagnosis while in your 20s you’ll need the support of your family and close friends. Do yourself a favor and share the weight of your condition with your loved ones. In other words, make it a “family matter” but explain to them that you need them to be there for you as your support system. Make sure they understand that what you need most is suggestions, positivity, compassion, respect, and love – not pity or sad looks.

How? Ask a family member to go with you to doctor’s appointments, help you clean your house, prepare meals for you until you’re back up on your feet, or run to the store for you when you’re too tired, weak, or sick to do so. They spend time with you while you’re bedridden, hold your hand during infusions, help you shower and dress when you can’t do it for yourself, and will be understanding when you can’t stay out all night partying and drinking even though they can.
Ask loved ones to make the lifestyle changes you are making so it’s a “family affair.” If everyone (friends and family) are making the changes, it’ll be whole lot easier for you to make them and stick to them.

About the Author

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Ph.D. in Family Psychology

Ree has a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (M.M.F.T.) and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She spent over ten years counseling families, couples, individuals, and children on adjustment issues such as blended families, same-sex couples, dysfunctional family relationships, relationship issues, etc. Now she writes for famous health organizations and is a published author.
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