Integration and Managing Life with a Chronic Illness

Living Out Your Purpose While Managing Your Illness

Coping with Chronic Illness. JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

How does one deal with the all-encompassing burden of living with a chronic illness? Well, this is an extraordinarily complex topic and task, and there is no easy solution -- but adjustment is possible, especially through a process called integration.

The Challenges of Chronic Illness

When you suffer from a chronic illness, you experience not only physical challenges, but also emotional and psychosocial ones.

For instance, chronic headache disorders may cause a variety of physical symptoms like pain, auras, and nausea, but they also commonly create a significant psychological burden. The stress of missing work or social events due to headaches may lead to anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and other psychiatric disorders. In addition, the daily task of managing or avoiding triggers can be daunting and all-consuming, severely limiting one's ability to work, socialize, and enjoy life's daily pleasures.

There is also the economic burden of having a chronic illness. Many individuals face monetary challenges trying to keep up with their medical bills—some even face medical bankruptcy.

But, here is a peek into how you can adjust to life with a chronic illness.

The Phases of Chronic Illness

There are different theories of how one adjusts to chronic illness. One researcher described this adjustment phase in four stages:

  • uncertainty
  • disruption
  • striving to regain self
  • regaining wellness

The last stage of "regaining wellness," suggests that individuals must find a place for their illness to fit within their lives. So instead of having an illness be all absorbing in one's life, individuals must seek opportunity, despite their illness.

This of course is a lifelong work in progress -- people with chronic illnesses are constantly readjusting, taking steps backwards and forwards on a daily basis, depending on that day's challenges.

The Work of Chronic Illness

Managing a chronic illness requires persistent effort to regain wellness and fit your illness within the context of your daily life. This concept is known as integration -- achieving that balance between self-managing one's illness and living a purposeful life.

An article in the Journal of Clinical Nursing nicely summarizes psychologists' theories regarding the work of managing a chronic illness, which requires behavioral, psychological, social and vocational, and existential tasks.

Here are examples of how people with headaches may "work" to manage their illness:

Behavioral Strategies to Manage Your Chronic Illness

    Psychological Strategies to Manage Your Chronic Illness

    Social and Vocational Strategies to Manage Your Chronic Illness

    • Engaging in personally meaningful work or hobbies
    • Connecting with others who suffer from chronic headaches.

    Existential Strategy to Manage Your Chronic Illness

    • Finding meaning and purpose in life which may change when you are diagnosed with a chronic illness.

    Bottom Line

    Integrating your illness into your life context is vital to maximizing your quality of life. There are barriers to this process of integration -- psychological, economic, physical -- so the process is always ongoing and requires you to be resourceful and proactive.

    This concept of integrating your chronic illness is not easy. But hopefully, with assistance from your doctor and loved ones, you can find peace and discover your special purpose in life, whether or not that is affected by your illness.


    Jarrett,  L. (2000). Living with chronic illness: a transitional model of coping. British Journal of Therapy & Rehabilitation, 7:40–44.

    Whitemore, R. (2008). Chronic illness: the process of integration. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 17(0):177-87.

    DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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