The concept of dealing with illness or disease throughout your life is one that many people struggle to understand. After all, illness is something that, as it comes into our life, our current medical system is in place to treat, is it not?

Unfortunately, while we have made some great medical advances over the years empowering us to handle more than ever before, there are still some ailments and situations that we don’t have a solution for. Deemed ‘chronic,’ these conditions change life as we know it, putting an incredible amount of strain on all areas of our lives.

While the terms are used interchangeably, it’s important to understand the difference between ‘chronic illness’ and ‘chronic disease.’ According to Dr. Carmel M. Martin, Associate Professor of Family Medicine at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and Chief Medical Officer for Cara Health Inc., chronic illness  can be defined as “the personal experience of living with the affliction that often accompanies chronic disease,” while chronic disease is “defined on the basis of the biomedical disease classification, and includes diabetes, asthma, and depression.”

Life with any of these conditions is a challenge, as we learn to navigate everything from our emotional response to these changes to the potential physical limitations they may create in our lives. One of the greatest things that we can do during this time is to develop an understanding and reliable support system that will stand by our sides through thick and thin. Faced with the reality that many people will come and go in our lives, unable to (or unwilling to) handle the unique challenges of our current health conditions, learning to identify those that are part of this support system can be difficult. However, once we have found who ‘our people’ are, we will discover one of the biggest pieces to the puzzle of managing our new reality.

These are the people who take the time to listen, understanding that we may have unique concerns, difficulties or struggles in life. They realize that a chronic illness or disease isn’t a choice, but rather a medical condition that we must learn to manage and fight against each and every day. They recognize that we are going to have both good days and bad, and while most are tempted to disappear when times get tough, they know that those are the moments in life where we need them most.

Unfortunately, we may also be put in the position to learn one of life’s most difficult lessons – While we may be connected to our family by blood, this doesn’t mean that they will always be there during our darkest times. In fact, our family may be the toxic influence that is preventing us from learning to manage our life and find hope in this battle. What do you do when you realize the person bringing unnecessary negativity into your life is your sister, your brother or your parent?

While it may be the most difficult decision you ever have to face, letting go of toxic family members and removing them from your life will allow you to remove this additional stress, freeing your time and energy to focus, instead, on managing your current condition and finding happiness in this new ‘normal’ that you are forced to accept. Don’t allow these individuals to make you feel guilty or manipulate their way back into your life. This is a decision that you didn’t reach without a great amount of consideration. Stick with your guns, creating healthy barriers to protect yourself from the unnecessary negativity.

You already have plenty on your plate dealing with your medical challenges at this time, you don’t need a toxic individual to add to it. Instead, surround yourself with positive people and sources of light in this world. Remember, ‘family’ doesn’t just mean blood relatives – You can create your own ‘family’ by finding those who are connected with you by heart.

Image via the Odyssey

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