Chronic Illness and Moving

Are you moving soon and find the whole process daunting? Here are some moving prep tips for folks who have chronic illness.

It’s the time of year when the real estate market opens up again after a winter lull. Particularly here in Chicago where there are LOTS of renters. When the market opens up, people move residences and moving can present challenges to people who have chronic illnesses that might not affect folks without in the same way.

There are many sites that offer tips for packing and moving, like this piece from the Huffington Post. This list is one specific to folks who are living with conditions like chronic pain, diabetes, fibromyalgia, HIV, bipolar (I or II) disorder, depression, substance use disorders, etc.

  1. Create a “Last Minute Box” (or more than one).
    This box (or suitcase) should include any medications, supplements, devices that help keep you comfortable (like ice packs, pillows, and heating pads). Be sure to label it so you will be able to find it. Tape a piece of colored paper on it, draw stars on it, etc.
  2. Schedule your move for a time of day that works within your normal rhythms.
    If you are not a morning person, schedule your move for later in the day. If you are using movers, they typically offer windows of time.
  3. Have a Packing Strategy.
    If you start early and do a little bit at a time, it will be more manageable. Do one box at a time, one room at a time.
  4. Ask for help.
    Moving and prepping to move include a lot of small tasks that can feel overwhelming. If breaking the big tasks into smaller ones isn’t your strong suit, as a friend or family member to help you. If you are a task master…delegate. Is there trash or recycling to be taken out? Is there one room that you can assign to a trusted friend or two? Sometimes packing up a kitchen is a great task to get help with.
  5. Pay attention to your personal care. Stressful times can trigger a flare up or an episode. Having a chronic condition makes us more vulnerable to the effects of stress and moving is STRESSFUL. The Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory is a handy tool to assess the level of stress you might be experiencing. Keep in mind, though, that if you have a chronic health condition, your score will be higher. As you know, living with chronic illness creates ongoing stress.
  6. Listen to music or podcasts you don’t get to listen to regularly.
    Have you tried The Hilarious World of Depression? It is a great podcast with interviews with comedians (in the first season) who have struggled with Depression or other mental health conditions. The second season expands the list of guests to include folks like Jenny Lawson a.k.a. the Bloggess or Jeff Tweedy from Wilco.
  7. Talk to a friend on the phone while you pack. Friends can be invaluable cheerleaders for us. You can even text friends when you accomplish something like “I packed two boxes!” and your friend can say something encouraging.
  8. Take breaks! Powering through the physical and emotional labor of packing up belongings is only going to set you back farther. Do what you can in little bursts, then take breaks. Alternate activities that require more from you (mentally and/or physically) with activities that require less.

I hope this list is helpful! If you have suggestions to add, please do so in the comments!

Chronic Illness and Holiday Travel

Having a chronic illness can make holiday visits with family and friends more challenging, especially when the visit requires travel. In part because travel usually means that the people you are going to see don’t know a lot about the day to day experience with your condition. And, in part because travel can turn the volume up on normal symptoms like fatigue, pain, depression and anxiety (to name a few).

Suffice it to say that holiday travel requires increased planning for folks with chronic conditions. Some things to consider:

  • How do I want to travel? How long do I want to stay? Where do I want to stay?
  • Can I insure that I will have time to myself to rest if I need it?
  • Do I have enough of all medications to take with me?
  • Is there someone I can ask for help who won’t need me to explain a lot to them?
  • Do I need a pillow or other tool to make travel more comfortable?
  • What kinds of foods do I need with me in case I can’t find anything at the airport/on the road?
  • What do I need to pack (comfortable clothing and shoes, gifts, etc.)
  • What do I need to do to care for my emotional wellness?
  • Creating a plan in case symptoms are not manageable. This could include having the phone number of your medical team saved in your phone and with one other person.
  • Do family members know about your illness? How much do you want to tell them?

People who don’t know about your day to day life may have reactions, especially if you are behaving differently than you had in the past. For example, you need to take more breaks or you need to spend time away from people from time to time now. Some folks like to tell people ahead of time about some of the changes, some prefer to manage things as they come up.

If you are traveling with a companion, it is often helpful to let that person in on your plans for self-care on this trip. Sometimes a partner or close friend can run interference so you can focus on taking care of yourself.

A little preparation can make a holiday visit more enjoyable!

Waves of Emotion


A lot of people find their way to therapy when they are feeling overwhelmed. Some people experience panic attacks or mood swings, irritability, challenges in relationships. And, in order to start feeling better, learning to identify and manage feelings is key.

Water has long been a metaphor for feelings, so this concept isn’t entirely original.

Imagine a beach, whether it is an ocean beach or a lake beach is entirely up to you. It is a pleasant day and you are watching the waves come in. One after the other, waves crest and then roll or crash onto the beach. The water from the wave is pulled back to the lake (or ocean) and another wave comes. This motion continues.

Some of the waves are really big and some are small, but they all have a natural flow to them. Any wave that comes on to a sandy beach will not get stuck. It will flow backwards into the lake or ocean.

Now, imagine that each of the waves represents a single feeling state. Feelings come and feelings go; what causes them to grow is when we add thoughts or feelings to them. If we can begin to notice a feeling when it arises (or whenever we can notice it), then imagine that the feeling is riding on a wave, rolls onto the sand and dissipates back into the lake or ocean.

This isn’t easy. It takes practice.

When we build walls where there was once a natural beach, waves don’t have an easy path. (See picture below.) They crash into the wall and spray all over the place.

Just as when we add thoughts or feelings to an initial feeling: the initial feeling grows and becomes multiple feelings and thoughts. It sprays all over the place in the form of conflict, verbal expressions of feeling, crying, etc.


You can learn to identify feelings and feel better! Therapy can help. If you are in the Chicago area, please contact me!





Chronic Coping

Living with a chronic illness can have any number of emotional effects, especially if you have an illness that medical providers and specialists are not able to explain.

I have heard countless stories over the years of people who have experienced some kind of disregard from what I’ll call the medical establishment. There are individual providers of medical services who treat folks with respect and honesty when they aren’t sure what is happening medically for a patient. And, there are others who disregard a person and offer a referral for psychological services in these situations.

Either way, a referral for therapy can feel like the medical person is saying, “it’s all in your head” or “I don’t believe you” or “I don’t know what else I can do to help you.” In the best case, the patient takes the opportunity to see a therapist in order to cope with the experience of that medical person (or those medical people, for that matter).

In other cases, patients decide that going to see a doctor isn’t worth it. These folks often get physically sicker and some also get depressed.

I am biased, I realize, but I think that therapy can be helpful for folks who have chronic illness. Our minds and bodies are actually connected to each other. Can’t have one without the other, so why not get treatment for all parts of ourselves?

For people with chronic illness, having support can make a big difference. Learning that you have rights as a patient, and knowing that you can decide what feels comfortable to you in a medical visit can be very empowering. For example:

  • You can opt out of being weighed.
  • You can change your mind about getting a pelvic exam, even if that was the reason you made the appointment.
  • If you don’t understand what the medical person is telling you, you can ask questions.
  • If you feel uncomfortable, it’s okay to say so!

Why not have a care team? A therapist can be your cheerleader as you go out and deal with the medical establishment, a place to regroup after a medical appointment, a source of support for regaining the emotional (or physical) energy you need to have another medical test, see another provider, etc.




Giving Overload

Melody Beattie in her book, The New Codependency says that some of the traits that people call codependent are not inherently bad. It’s okay to help people, in fact, helping people can be rewarding and meaningful. Doing people favors is a great thing, it builds relationships. Caregiving can help us to feel needed, it can be fun to help people. It’s all good…

To a point.

When the scale tips and all you have done is give give give, you feel depleted. Sometimes people get physically sick or depressed and anxious. Sometimes they get irritated with people, or start doing things like overeating, drinking too much, using drugs, playing computer games or scrolling through Facebook for longer than usual. You feel awful.

Yet, people keep asking you to do things for them and you keep doing them.

When you are a Giver, it’s what people come to expect. But something has to give and it doesn’t have to be your well being! You can learn how to make changes and communicate them to other people.

If you are experiencing Giving Overload, therapy can help, because before you can tell others, you have to get clear on what you want.

Getting Started with a New Therapist

Here are some tips about your first session with a new therapist.

The decision to start therapy can be a turning point. It is not always easy to find a therapist you feel comfortable enough to get started with. Here are some questions to consider as you look for the right fit.

  • Does the therapist have experience with the concerns that I have?
  • It helps to notice how you are feeling when you are speaking with them on the phone, when you review their website and other online profiles.
  • How does the therapist approach their work?
  • Does the therapist have a sense of humor? Are they very serious? What matters to you?
  • Are you looking for a therapist who is just going to listen to you? Someone who will give you assignments? Someone who is actively involved in your sessions?

If you aren’t sure about some of these things after your first interactions, it’s okay. You can ask questions any time during therapy. A solid therapist will welcome your questions.

It is always helpful to remember that you have options and that you can choose to see another therapist if you decide that will work better for you. I recommend that clients talk with their current therapist about their concerns before moving on, if that feels comfortable, because there may be misunderstandings that can help make the experience even more rewarding for you.


How to Find a Therapist

The most important thing to remember is that you have choices. If you don’t feel comfortable for some reason, trust your instincts.

Whether you have been in therapy before or you are returning to therapy after some time away, finding a therapist is no small task! And, most of the time when we are looking for help, it is because we aren’t feeling good. So, here are some pointers to guide the process.

Where do I start?

There are a number of different ways to find therapists to consider working with. A lot of folks are using the internet these days. Checking with your insurance company to get names of therapists, cross checking those names with therapist websites and/or Psychology Today’s Therapist Finder, asking friends, asking your primary care provider, walking by a therapist’s office in your neighborhood.

It can help a lot when you go see your primary care provider, to bring a list of therapists from your insurance company’s website. I always recommend that you search only by zip code and not choose specialties of these clinicians because there is often a limit on the number of specialties a clinician can click and they may have missed the one specialty that you chose in your search. This way you will get a more comprehensive list for your primary care provider or other folks to review for clinicians they may know.

There are so many, how do I pick one?

In the initial stages, you can certainly look and find two or three therapists to evaluate. It is helpful to have a point of comparison. You may have sense of what you do and don’t want, so this might not be necessary. You get to decide!

How do I know what I am looking for?

There are several things to consider when you are looking for a therapist who might be a good match for you. Match? Most of the time, what we talk about in therapy is very personal, it makes a lot of sense to seek out a therapist that you feel comfortable with.

What does this mean?

The following are not in any particular order, because you get to decide which of these is most important to you. You also might not know right now about some of these and that’s okay too.

  • Location
    Therapy is usually once a week for 45-55 minutes, at least intially. It helps to choose a location that feels manageable for you. Do you want to find someone close to work? Home?
  • Schedule
    Some people like to start out their day with therapy, some like to go mid-day, and others prefer end of the day.
  • Finances
    Do you want to use your insurance? Can you pay the full fee? Does the therapist offer a sliding scale? If you choose to use insurance, it is important to ask the therapist if they take your insurance.
  • Similarities and differences to your own experience
    Which similarities? For example, someone “out” about their recovery or their identity.
    Which differences? For example, someone older or younger than you are
  • Areas of expertise and theoretical orientation
    Sometimes people look for a therapist who does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or EMDR or someone who works with the particular issue you are most concerned about. These things can be important, but it is also important to feel comfortable with the person you choose to work with (more on this in the next section).
  • What type of clinician do you want to work with? Many times, the training that a provider has had matters less than how you feel with them. There are a number of license types and degrees that therapists have. There is a slideshow of different provider types here.
  • The messages you get from their online profile and/or website is important too. Does the therapist feel approachable? Warm? Even if you feel neutral about a profile, it might be worth following up if they match all of the other things you are looking for.

Once you have chosen someone to contact, you might consider the following:

  • When they get back to your inquiry.
  • How do you feel when you speak with them on the phone?
  • Are they open to your questions?
  • Does the scheduling work?

The most important thing to remember is that you have choices. If you don’t feel comfortable for some reason, trust your instincts. If you aren’t sure, it’s okay to ask questions. This is true even when you have already started therapy, but I’ll talk about that in a different post.

Feel free to contact me to decide if I am a good match for you.