Persons with chronic illnesses often feel overwhelmed. At times, there seems to be no end in sight to pain or discomfort, only a constant need to think of ways to modify activities and feelings, such as the way to walk, move, stand, eat, and even rest. Add to that daily consideration of which medication to take, when and how to take the prescribed dosage, and what else to try.
In addition to the person living with the condition, their spouses, children, parents, and other helpers try to understand and cope with a condition that can be baffling, confusing, and frustrating. It’s overwhelming for all.
There are seminars and community workshops that can help people experiencing these difficulties. Seminars provide helpful and vital information but little time for participant interaction. Workshops like Living Well with Chronic Conditions allow discussions to take place. In Living Well workshops, people engage in intensive discussion and activity on a particular subject. This is a good way to learn, especially for older adults who may need time to express their concerns or to truly understand what is being presented.
Living Well leaders are trained group facilitators, not necessarily experts on any specific condition but able to deliver facts regarding diagnosis, treatment, and results and create a warm and understanding atmosphere where participants’ concerns can be addressed. Participants have time to discuss their emotions, both positively and negatively. They hear ideas from people like themselves and don’t feel that information is communicated in a way that is “above” them.
Leaders of the six-week series on Living Well with Chronic Conditions (including one on diabetes) facilitate discussion on self-management of the conditions. Often participants just want answers. “Why come and spend two hours for six weeks if I don’t get my questions answered?” they may ask. A family member or friend who accompanies the participant may just want answers, without any wish to study the topic or participate in workshop activities.
At the first session, some people may arrive reluctantly or angry—upset about the diagnosis and also the time and energy needed to accomplish a healthful solution. Still others feel they already know what to do and come interested in sharing what they have learned, feeling confident in their knowledge and only attending because they were referred by their physician. In fact many attendees participate in the Living Well workshops because of recommendations of various health care providers. But most come for helpful solutions to learn ways to deal with a condition that limits or affects their everyday activities.
Many people find that when they get together and share their specific concerns, compare realities, and learn alternatives and problem-solving skills, their pain and stress seem to lessen for a while. What seemed overwhelming becomes manageable. Frustrating activities and information are broken down into manageable steps. Exploring fear of the future and hearing from others who have similar concerns can lighten the burden immensely.
Workshop participants hear ideas and suggestions on physical, emotional, social, and sometimes financial limitations and work with the group on plans for change. For the facilitator, it can be gratifying to watch expressions on the faces of people whose concern or problem has been answered and to watch those who were initially reluctant continue to attend and return with enthusiasm. It is not unusual for attendees to admit their surprise at how fast the time went or their wish that the discussion could continue.
Living Well workshop participants learn how to self-manage their health challenges and deal with concerns and daily needs in a more positive and healthful way. Ongoing effects include a feeling of wellness, pride in accomplishment, reduced feeling of isolation in experiences, and relief from anger, loss, and feelings of inadequacy. They are able to age more effectively not having to focus all their time and energy on their health.
Contributor Delores Davis currently teaches “Writing Your Life Stories” classes at Burien Community Center. She also conducts six-week Living Well with Chronic Conditions classes and a diabetes self-management program for Kaiser Permanente and Sound Generations.