Five Skills Chronic Illness Teaches You

Let’s start with a fundamental truth: having a chronic illness sucks.  There’s no denying that.

However, looking at the people I know who live with a variety of long-term conditions, a lot of them have developed certain skills that can help them.


When you have a chronic illness, your body often fails you.  You frequently have to stop doing normal everyday tasks, activities and hobbies that you once enjoyed.  Your illness can change on a daily basis, or even multiple times within an hour making it very difficult to plan anything in advance.

Resilience is defined as the “ability to spring back into shape and recover quickly from difficulties.”  It’s something those of us with chronic illness have to do every day.  Any day can bring a new symptom, a flare up or even a new diagnosis.  We have to learn to live with that, and deal with our new circumstances, whatever that may be.

We’ve been dealt a certain hand of cards, and we can’t give up or take a break from it – we just have to keep fighting.


Strength is a fundamental facet of chronic illness.  The strength to drag ourselves out of bed even when every cell in our body is screaming ‘what the hell are you doing?’  Or strength to put a happy face on when you’re meeting friends, or going to a family function.  It takes a lot of strength to keep going, no matter how bad things get.

But there’s also the strength needed to advocate for ourselves – because even if you’re fortunate enough to have supportive family or friends, you know your body best and you will have to fight for what you need, often over and over, and have to be brave enough to ask for help when enough is enough.


Having a health condition means we need to become an expert in lots of different areas.  Whether it’s our condition, treatment, benefits/welfare, how to obtain assistance, relevant laws and much more – we have to know it all!  We’ve constantly got a new battle on our hands, as it’s rare help gets handed to us on a plate.

And having a rare condition brings added pressure, as we’re often also having to educate our doctors and medical professionals in what exactly our condition is in the first place (while trying not to annoy them!) before we’re even able to get onto treatment and management options.

Knowledge is vital for us to understand our own circumstances, and can also be very empowering.


Having health issues tends to open your eyes a lot more to other people’s struggles in a way you may not have even thought about previously.  Compassion for other people comes more readily when you can relate to them due to your own experiences.  Empathy is defined as,  “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

Chronic illness can cause an amalgamation of issues that aren’t just medically related, and it can make it easier to have an insight when other people experience their own difficulties.

In my own personal experience, I find when I mention I’m having a bad day, or share a fundraiser for a local charity – it’s my friends who have their own health issues who are the first to respond offering support.


Creativity comes in lots of different forms, from the traditional arts and crafts type, to the way you live your life.  Through my own conditions I’ve tried to embrace my inner craft goddess, and discovered so many other people with disabilities also take part in similar pursuits.  Perhaps because it’s a great way to distract yourself from pain, and also because enabling yourself to create something to be proud of brings a positive element to your life.

But creativity isn’t all glitter and glue – it’s also having to be creative with our own lives.  You have to learn to think outside the box, find ways around issues and constantly problem-solve.  The ways we used to do something may not now apply to us, such as hopping on a bus to go shopping.  We may have to use our imaginations to devise easier and shorter routes, alternatives to carrying heavy items, and keep the trips out short and sweet to manage fatigue and pain.  Instead of saying “I can’t do that” it becomes “How can I find a way to do that?”


If you know somone with chronic illness is having a bad day, why don’t you share this with them to give them a boost? 

What would you add to this list?  Please comment below with some of the skills you’ve gained, or skills that you see your friends/loved ones using.

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  1. I like this post, although it’s a little preachy. Since you ask us to add: my chronic illness has pushed me to face reality about certain people who could have ended up with the power to make personal choices for me. I hired a lawyer to make sure that those choices will be made only by people I trust.

    • Thanks very much for your comment and feedback. Sorry it comes across as preachy. I didn’t mean to make us all sound wonderful, but I do tend to focus on the negative sides of disability a lot – so wanted to write something more uplifting!

      Thank you for adding to the list, and that’s a really good one. I think trust is a big issue, when you have to rely on others – whether it’s financially, personal care, for emotional support, etc.

  2. I used to be in a job that required empathy, the more the better. It was something i consciously worked at.My ability to empathise and to communicate ( an important part of the equation) improved all the time.
    But several years of chronic pain,and the inability to work,took their toll. I became too tied up with my own problems and out of practice with empathy or just basic social skills. This had a lot to do with relative isolation, plus drug treatment.
    I was also a painter with a BA in fine art. But my health greatly reduced what I could do.
    My empathy and creativity only reduced as a result of chronic pain. I am far from the empathetic person I was. I find myself being insensitive and clueless about how someone else sees things.
    And I don’t have the creative ideas or outlook which I had. It isn’t just a matter of loss of practical skills.
    Sorry to sound so negative.



  1. air max - Hello, just wanted to tell you, I enjoyed this post. It was inspiring. Keep on posting!

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