Living Well With Chronic Illness: A Book Review 

I thought I would share my thoughts on an amazingly good book I read recently called Living Well with Chronic Illness because it has a lot of really helpful information that I think anyone managing an undiagnosed or chronic condition can appreciate.

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Living Well with Chronic Illness, Joanna J. Charnas, LCSW, LICSW, (MSI Press, 2015.)

From the first page of the introduction throughout the rest of the book, author and chronic illness patient Joanna Charnas present an accurate portrayal of what it’s like to live with an undiagnosed or chronic condition in such a way that you feel hopeful for the future. I am a young woman who has spent more than 20 years feeling lost within the maze of the American healthcare system in an attempt to obtain a clinical diagnosis that could somehow explain the unrelenting and progressive constellation of symptoms I experienced since early childhood. So, I know all too well what it’s like to feel as though the only option left is to give up when doctors cannot give you the answer you are looking for. Although it’s a daunting task to find a balance between managing symptoms and having some semblance of a normal life, the book Living Well with Chronic Illness attempts to minimize the impact that chronic illness has on quality of life by refocusing efforts towards the elimination of biological, psychological, and social fatigue – all of which serve as poignant reminders of disability or infirmity. Through the use of both personal and professional examples that are drawn directly from Charnas’ own experiences, Living Well with Chronic Illness reads as though the author is sitting down right in front of you as she recounts her personal story of where she began and where she is today, along with all the lessons she had to learn along the way. So, grab a cup of coffee (or whatever beverage you enjoy) and prepare to be enlightened.

Each chapter represents a unique challenge of being sick and then advises the reader as to how to effectively cope with such adversities in order to regain control of their health and go on to live a much happier and more fulfilling existence in spite of declining vitality. Part I tackles the more emotional aspects of chronic illness by first acknowledging individual feelings (e.g., anxiety, fear, anger, hope) and then suggesting a variety of therapies that can help change negative attitudes into positive ones through humorous expression and general acceptance. Part II focuses on the special issues of undiagnosed or chronic illness while guiding readers through strategies for practical management. In fact, Part II also contains my absolute favorite chapter of the entire book entitled “Your Body Knows Best: Listen to It!” Part III concentrates on the more serious topics that unfortunately pop up in illness or disability, including the various laws governing the practice of medicine, patient rights or responsibilities, and the financial concerns of illness or disability. Finally, Part IV opens up about the spiritual considerations of those who are sick, such as the maintenance of faith and hope, while equivocally accommodating the personal or religious beliefs and values of readers, before closing with an important reminder of all the good things that come out of doing the harder things in life. In chronic illness, these are the gifts of empathy, strength, self-confidence, a sense of community, and the ability to grow or develop into a better, stronger version of our true self. Whether you are a newcomer, a veteran, a practitioner, or just somebody who wants to learn more about the realities of living with an invisible or chronic disease, I promise you will find some value within the pages of this book.


Joanna Charnas has been a social worker for almost thirty years.  She is a licensed psychotherapist in two states with a specialty in group therapy, and has spent the last 20 years working with people with physical and mental illness.  She’s a blogger on the Huffington Post and writes articles for an international health website. Living Well With Chronic Illness is Joanna’s first book.

To learn more about the author, please visit her website at https://joannacharnas.wordpress.com/about/

You can also order a copy of Living Well with Chronic Illness from Amazon.com.

Prescribe pills to off-set the shakes, to off-set the pills, you know you should take it a day at a time…

When you’re sick, you go to the doctor.

You expect them to diagnose the problem,

and give you a pill to make it all better

In chronic illness, however, it doesn’t happen that way.

Chronic means long-term, ongoing, and long-standing.

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In many cases, there is no cure.

Or there is no diagnosis to treat properly.

Or they’re medicating the wrong disease due to misdiagnosis.

Sometimes the only option is to treat the symptoms.

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In chronic illness, you often have a team of doctors of various specialties.

They all have their own ideas on how to treat or manage your disease.

Prescriptions for this, pills for that.

And before you know it, your list of medications is a mile long.

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It’s no surprise then, that medicine is one of the most important components

to managing chronic illness.



Here are some tips and tricks that I have found to be helpful with medication management:


How to Keep Track of Medications

Write down all of your prescriptions. 

Make a list of all the medications you are currently taking (for both a daily basis and  as-needed basis) and keep a copy at your home.

Make sure you have the name of the medication, the dosage, and how many times a day you need to take it. It’s helpful to leave room for notes, where you can write down possible side-effects or any interactions with other medications.

There’s a ton of free printables available on the internet that you can use for a medication tracker. You can also make your own list in Excel. I personally like to keep one copy on the computer and one paper copy (especially when starting new medications, so I don’t forget when and how to take the new meds).

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Let family or others know where they can find a copy of this list, just in case there is ever an emergency and they need to notify emergency responders about your current medications. 

Bring the list to all your appointments.

It is important for all your doctors to know which medications you are currently on and which ones that have been stopped.

This will also help to make your appointment (and overall management of your condition) faster and more efficient as well. 

You won’t have to try and remember off the top of your head when asked, you’ll know the exact dosage your taking, and it can be entered into the computer without you having to spell it out for the office staff. 

Plus, there’s never enough room provided on the forms medical offices ask you to fill out.
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Help in Remembering to Take Medications

If you’re anything like me, the more and more medications I am prescribed, the harder it is to keep track of which ones I have or have not taken throughout the day.

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When I first became sick I only took medications as needed, which were easily kept nice and organized in the medicine cabinet. As time went on, medicine was needed on a daily basis. After three daily medications were on the list, I opted to buy a daily pill organizer so I wouldn’t forget if I took my medication or not. Had a few too many close calls of almost taking a double dose and didn’t want to risk it any longer. 

I purchased a daily pill organizer just like this one. 

It was cheap, small, and did the job.

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After outgrowing this organizer, I now use this one as a travel case that I keep in my purse.

I put a few “emergency medications” in each slot, which I have relabeled with the name of the medications, versus day of the week.

Of course, as my condition progressed, more medications were prescribed and I had no choice but to upgrade my pill organizer. Not only were my pills no longer fitting into the single compartments, but I was getting confused as to which pill was to be taken at what time of the day and what medications went together (and which ones should be spaced out).

I bought this organizer off EBAY.
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I think it was under $5.00, and so far it has worked great for what I need it for.

There are four sections to each day: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Bedtime.

I only keep my daily meds in here, not the “as needed” pills. 

Other ways to organize medications:

Pill Packs 

I learned about pillpack.com from one of my readers, who passed along some information hoping to help with the management of my illness. 

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I love the idea behind the pills packs and it seems like an easy way to keep track of all your medications, considering they come individually packed and labeled with time, date, and what pills are included. You are also able to separate the packets into daily pills and “as needed” pills, as well as adding in non-prescription medications (such as vitamins, supplements, or pain relievers). Plus it’s delivered to your home, making it extremely convenient for those us of who have trouble leaving the house.

Pill Pack does accept most insurance plans, so you only have to pay your insurance deductible and shipping is always free. Unfortunately, my insurance isn’t accepted as of yet, but I’m hoping it will sometime in the future because this service would be really helpful in managing all of my medications (especially since I’m likely to outgrow my current system here soon). Plus I hate waiting at the pharmacy for refills. 

If you’d like more information, please visit pillpack.com/info or you can email hannah.t@pillpack.com

For time sensitive medications:

There are some newer pill organizers that have an alarm inside that lets you know when it’s time to take your medicine. They’re a little more pricey but definitely high tech and efficient.

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However, you can also download an app or set an alarm on your phone for a medication reminder if you wanted to stay on the cheaper end and use a more standard pill organizer.

Ways to disguise and carry medications with you:

Especially useful if you are worried about someone stealing your medications (particularly controlled substances).

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Cabinet Organization of Medications:

Of course, this depends on how many medications you have and how many of those are taken on a daily basis. I am looking to do something similar for my medicine cabinet and/or under the sink for any first aid materials and over the counter medications.

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How to Manage Side Effects

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“Nearly all medications have side effects. When you begin taking a medication, it is important to know:

  • What are the potential side effects?
  • If I experience a side effect, what can I do?
  • Which symptoms should alert me to consult my healthcare provider?

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Actions you can take

It is helpful to know what you should do about a possible side effect from the start. You should also know which side effects are safe to treat yourself and when to contact your healthcare provider. There are simple steps you can take to manage common side effects:

  • Record any side effects – keep track of your side effects and talk about them with your healthcare provider during your next visit.
  • Nausea/Upset Stomach – take medicine with food or milk – however, be sure to check with your provider that the medication may be taken this way. Also, avoid spicy foods and heavy meals. Drink water. Check with your provider or pharmacist about using over-the-counter medications.
  • Diarrhea – Avoid caffeine, highly acidic foods and beverages, foods high in fiber, and spicy foods. Check with your provider or pharmacist about using over-the-counter medications.
  • Constipation – Drink plenty of fluids; drink lots of water. Eat foods high in fiber such as fruits and vegetables. Exercise. Ask your provider or pharmacist about using over-the-counter medications.
  • Dry mouth – drink water. Suck on ice chips or sour candy to promote more saliva.
  • Fatigue/lack of energy – eat a balanced diet, get plenty of exercise, and sleep a minimum of 7 hours a night.” (rxoutreach.org)

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Other tools to monitor side-effects

My favorite app that I have on my phone that helps with managing my medicine and potential side-effects or interactions is the drugs.com app. You can lookup drug information, identify pills,  set medication reminders for refills or to take your pills at a certain time, check interactions, and store personal medication records and history.

It’s the easiest and most user-friendly app I have found so far. I get the most use out of the “my drug list”. It’s handy if you forget your medication list for a doctor’s appointment and it gives you warnings as to what medications are high, moderate, or low risk of interacting, as well as how your medications interfere with your listed medical conditions. Here are a few screen shots from my personal application:

This screenshot shows the general tools available in the application. 

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In the “my drug list” section, it lists names of medications, dosages, and gives you color warnings (the triangles) to any alerts of potential interactions.

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You can also click on each warning for more information.

If you click from here, it will tell you the exact problems

that can occur with each potential drug interaction.

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Ways to Prevent Medication Errors

Medication errors CAN and DO happen! 

Your prescription goes through many sources and people before you can take it:

*The doctor writing the prescription.

*The nurse if the prescription is called into the pharmacy.

*The pharmacy technician who processes the order.

*The pharmacist who count the pills and then issues the prescription.

*The distributor/manufacturer of the pharmaceutical.

Not to mention your own potential to cause human error.

It’s important to be aware of the possibilities and take steps to prevent it much as possible. Your life could be at stake if you don’t.

Ways to prevent medication errors:

Ask your doctor questions if you are receiving a new prescription.

What are the side effects?

What is the benefit of taking this medication?

Will this medication interact with anything I am currently on?

What signs or symptoms should I be looking out for?

Read the prescription paperwork  carefully and check for accuracy.

Does all your information look correct?

Name, address, phone number?

Type of medication and dosage?

Doctor’s signature?

Use the same pharmacy for all prescriptions.

This will help to keep you not only organized, but the pharmacist will be aware of any potential drug interactions.

Talk to the pharmacists when you pick up the prescription.

They know medicine better than anyone else. 

Ask questions.

Build a relationship with them.

Call in prescription refills at least a week or two earlier.

Prevents rushing to have it filled (both from the doctor and the pharmacy), which can create a greater potential for errors to occur.

You won’t run the risk of running out of meds, which can cause withdrawal symptoms, further health problems, and even death in some cases.

Always check the bottle’s label to make sure it’s correct and count the number of pills when you first pick up a prescription.

Other medication tips:

Never stop a medication without talking to your doctor first.

Take medications as prescribed and follow the directions on the bottle. This includes finishing the entire prescription (especially with antibiotics) and when tapering medications (like prednisone).

Make sure you know the possible side-effects, including the signs of an allergic reaction to the medication.

Trust that the doctors have weighed both the pros and cons of prescribing a particular medicine and that they only prescribed it because they believe it can help to alleviate your symptoms.

If you’re not at all comfortable with a certain medication, discuss it with your doctor.

When in doubt, call the doctor or the pharmacists and ask. Better safe than sorry.

But most importantly, remember that:

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