Take Back Control Over Your Chronic Illness


By Lisa Viviano

Sometimes life hands us a difficult diagnosis. Conditions like Type I diabetes, Asthma, Crohn’s Disease, Fibromyalgia or other types of chronic illness can make living a ‘normal’ life difficult to impossible. They can require frequent interventions and can put a halt to our dreams and make our family lives strained. Chronic illnesses are also known to lead to depression which comes with its own set of challenges.


What to do when we are giving the sticky end of the lollipop?

If you’re lucky and it is something treatable, like high blood pressure or Type II diabetes, listen to your doctor’s recommendations and look at the lifestyle changes you have within your control:

  • Lose some weight if need be
  • Get going with a regular (not necessarily rigorous) exercise program
  • Lower your salt intake
  • Drink lots of water (and give up pop of all kinds)
  • Eat healthy foods, saving desserts and ‘junk food’ for special or rare occasions

You might think “That’s easy for you to say Lisa!” but trust me, I know how hard it can be.


Nine years ago, I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes with a hemoglobin A1C of 13.1. For anyone familiar with diabetes testing you are rightly shocked (below 5.7 is normal, and 5.7-6.8 is considered “pre-diabetes)!  My doctors didn’t know how I wasn’t in a coma (my spot glucose was 469 – normal is less than 100). As a nurse I knew what the risks of living with Diabetes were. Diabetes can cause blood flow restrictions to your hands and feet and kidneys and I wanted to keep my fingers and toes so I made big changes. I’m lucky because for me, these changes worked! Now, I no longer need insulin and my blood sugars are normal. It just goes to show you can take charge of your health if you educate yourself and decide to do the hard work.


There are plenty of chronic conditions where diet and exercise aren’t going to be the magic bullet. Every chronic illness has its own set of recommendations to help improve your health, but there are some general tips that apply to just about anyone:

  • Find a good doctor. Maybe a specialist or two. Don’t be shy about asking for referrals from friends, but do your own research too. You may need to go out of town to a University hospital, but it’s worth it!
  • Physical Therapy. Therapists can offer some great help and teach you appropriate exercises you can do at home, giving you more ways to manage your own health.
  • A registered dietitian can help build a specific diet plan to help you get healthier. Anything from heart disease, kidney failure, diabetes, or diverticulitis can be helped with the proper diet. I never recommend fad diets. So, what’s are some good diet choices overall?
  • Give up pop (all sweetened drinks, really)
  • Lower your salt intake (read those food labels)
  • Lower your fat intake
  • Eat less protein
  • Eat more fruits and veggies
  • Drink more water!
  • Use your pharmacist as a resource. They don’t always have time during rush hour but I’ve found most pharmacists really appreciate you respecting their vast training and education to help you with your medication management.
  • Find a good mental health therapist. Some chronic illnesses can cause significant clinical depression. And don’t rule out anti-depressants. They can save your life! One certainly helped me.


You might need to overhaul your hobbies and activities. If you develop major problems with rheumatoid arthritis for instance, rock climbing may not be an option anymore. After a major heart attack, running might need to be replaced with power walking, while for other heart problems, cardio isn’t allowed at all. Long walks are still very good exercise and also give you a chance to get out of the house and get some sunshine. Your Vitamin D levels will thank you!


So, if you can’t go climb mountains what do you do with this extra time? Catch up on the reading you’ve been telling yourself you’ve wanted to do. Knitting is great! Clean out the garage or basement and organize it (you know it needs it Rachel). If you’re retired, volunteer at the local animal shelter answering phones or walking the dogs. There are so many things you can find to do that will continue to keep you off the sofa and feeling productive.

Living with chronic illnesses comes with many challenges but they don’t have to defeat you. Rise above them, take control of the parts of your life that you can and take advantage of the resources your insurer offers.


Lisa Viviano

Lisa is a recently retired RN who practiced in several areas of nursing including medical/surgical, psychiatric, and hospice. She is also graduate of the University of Michigan in psychology and trained to a Masters in Social  Work. Lisa is a monster football fan living in Southern Illinois with her daughter, who serves in the USAF and is also pursuing a nursing degree. They have three fur babies who they love and spoil daily. 

More reading: https://patientsrising.org/standing-up-for-those-in-chronic-pain/


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