4 coping methods for staying sane with CAD and other maladies

Chronic illness can cause frustrating mind games. Here are some ways to cope.

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by Mary Lott |

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Way back in the early 1990s, when we were preparing to live in a tropical rainforest, a wonderful book was recommended to us called the “Village Medical Manual.” It was a compendium of diseases and symptoms and gave the reader a smorgasbord of ailments from which to choose. We made sure it was included in our basic supplies.

As expected, after making the move, we soon developed symptoms of a mysterious ailment. I looked them up. It led us to a probable diagnosis and recommended a treatment. This is very helpful when there is no doctor in the area.

Over time, I found myself reaching for the book more and more. Alas, I had almost every disease they mentioned! I was one sick puppy. I thought about this for half a year as I descended into hypochondria. Finally, it was decided that we wouldn’t go into the deep jungle too often, and doctors were available. I threw the book away.

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The more things change, the more they stay the same

I am still that same person, only this time I have an actual disease I can fixate on: cold agglutinin disease, or CAD.

I am always asking myself questions. Am I tired because I’m hemolyzing? Or am I tired because I’ve had a long day? Oh, dear! I’m coughing. Do I have a cold or is it the start of insufficient oxygen getting to my lungs?

I tend to worry about every little thing. Once, I became ill on a certain Wednesday. It took only until Saturday for me to consider a trip to my hematologist. My mind was all over the map with all sorts of crazy thoughts. Was I descending again into hypochondria?

My coping methods

I had to develop some coping mechanisms to keep from going insane and boring my friends and relatives with my fixations. My first strategy was to read the Bible more and let God’s word saturate my mind. A verse that I became aware of in 2016 is Isaiah 26:3: “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Making God’s word an important start of my day settles me and helps me stay focused on the task at hand.

Secondly, I garden. I’m not a good gardener. Specifically, I dig holes, plunk a plant in — if I haven’t let it die between the buying and the plunking — water it a bit, then watch it slowly die over the summer. Nonetheless, I keep at it. I find the connection with the earth and breathing the fresh air quite wholesome.

A neighbor walking by became concerned because I was stretched out on our zoysia grass and looking up at the deep, blue sky dotted with some fluffy clouds. Being outside somehow puts my life into a better perspective.

Another of my hobbies is drawing flowers. I began drawing shortly after my diagnosis while spending even more time in bed. I have an iPad, an Apple pencil, and a delightful little app called Procreate. While looking at a thing and getting the proportions correct on paper or canvas has never been a talent of mine, I could use the layers tool in the app to create a satisfactory reproduction of what was in my garden. This is an excellent solution for occupying my mind when my body is unavailable for activity.

Lastly, I try to exercise when I am able. My favorite sport is swimming, and especially scuba diving. Of course, I must be careful about water temperatures, but warm, salt-water therapy while pretending to be Jacques Cousteau is a great relaxer.

An intricate graphic drawing of a spray of dogwood blossoms.

A spray of dogwood blossoms. (Artwork by Mary Lott)

Still a worrier about my health

I haven’t quite mastered my hypochondria. For the last three days, I have suffered a bout of gastroenteritis. I have pondered whether the abdominal pain is a return of my pain leading to my diagnosis. When I was diagnosed and discussing possible treatments, my doctor casually mentioned a swollen liver. Five years later, I am scared to take any over-the-counter medications in case they aggravate what might be a problem.

I’ve had this gastroenteritis for almost three days now. That seems to be the standard course of this virus. Other people in the area have experienced similar symptoms. They do not have CAD.

It is time for me to employ my first coping technique: reading God’s word. As for the gastroenteritis, “this, too, shall pass.”

Note: Cold Agglutinin Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cold Agglutinin Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cold agglutinin disease.