What Chronic Illness Can Teach Us About Aging

I was very inspired by an article I read on Richard M. Cohen and his wife Meredith Vieira.  Together, they have been living with his chronic illness, multiple sclerosis, for over 25 years and he, now 63 years old, has lived with the knowledge of this disease since he was 25.  According to the article:

Cohen and Vieira long ago decided that, while chronic illness might affect their life together, it wouldn’t define that life.

Although Cohen’s health is deteriorating, both he and Vieira continue to work and have successfully adjusted their working schedule to allow a life together.  Cohen writes books and columns on chronic illness. In his columns, he shares that:

…. the emotional experience of living with a long-term condition is much the same for anyone who has one….

In other words, it is the recognition and acknowledgement of having to live with a chronic disease that is the big hurdle that has to be crossed by everyone who has to face this situation.

“There are so many different diseases, and they do different things to your body,” he says, “But the coping issues that go with these illnesses are remarkably similar”

So his articles focus on the challenges those with chronic illnesses face: working at keeping a positive outlook for the tomorrows in their lives and how to maintain their own self-worth.  Pain and Frustration can act to destroy relationships. Cohen, in his columns, shares advice on how to avoid this outcome.

His favorite coping mechanism is denial of how his chronic illness may encroach on his future.  As he says it:

“I deny the certainty of possible outcomes.”

After an initial adjustment period which may include shock and dealing with the logistics of the diagnosis,  families must learn not to let the disease monopolize the family’s life.  On the other hand, chronic diseases are progressive and with each progressive loss of function, everyone involved has to adjust and re-adjust.

Margaret Guroff, the author of this article, points out that there are similarities between chronic illness and aging.

In some ways, the course of a chronic illness parallels the indignities of aging.  Most of us, if we live long enough will realize that we’ve driven our last car or scaled our last fence.

As we age, we start to loose more than we gain.  This can bring about negativity, depression, fear, a sense of uselessness.  But just as Richard M. Cohen points out about chronic illness, how one ages very much depends on one’s attitude and one’s coping mechanisms.  If we spend all our time denying the aging process as a part of our life process, when it starts to happen, we will probably be less prepared when it hits us.  On the other hand, accepting that aging is all part of the life process will enable us to accept those aspects of aging more positively and allow us to be better prepared to cope with it.

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