When I developed symptoms of an autoimmune illness more than a decade ago, it was a time filled with pain, confusion, anxiety, and frustration. My doctors worked diligently to arrive at a diagnosis and prescribe treatments, but appointments were often no longer than ten minutes. My family formed my core support group, but they were scared about the uncertainty of my future. My friends tried to understand my ordeal, but many were uncomfortable with the person I had become. Even I struggled to accept my new identity as someone who was “sick” at an age when I had expected to be attending college, but instead was facing embarrassing procedures and inconvenient hospitalizations.

I longed for someone who could take me by the hand and guide me through the process; possibly someone who had been there themselves and therefore had an intimate understanding of what I was facing.

Another challenge during those first years after receiving my diagnosis was my ignorance in navigating the health care system as a naive, scared teenager, one who was often dismissed as non-compliant by clinicians who didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting better.

After eleven years as a patient and eight years as a nurse, I have come to recognize the value of a health coach in addressing the gaps left unfilled by well-meaning doctors, family, and friends. Coaches have the unique ability to understand both the clinical and human sides of an illness and the work they do with their clients provides the time and attention necessary to process the volume of information obtained in a doctor’s visit and to translate it into practical steps that can be applied in daily life.

The truth is that a chronic illness is rarely cured, but can often be managed.

To do so successfully, it requires patience, understanding, and a willingness to learn on the part of everyone involved. There is still so much that we do not know about these diseases and the course of an illness can vary greatly from one patient to the next. For these reasons and more, an individualized approach with the support of a trained professional is absolutely vital for long-term wellness!