The Emotional Work of Managing Chronic Illness: 3 Tips for When You Lose a Trusted Medical Provider

Living with chronic illness (physical and/or mental) is hard. There’s the actual physical toll it takes on your body and there’s the associated emotional distress that comes with being in pain or feeling ill. This week, I experienced another dimension, which is the mental exhaustion that can accompany the logistics of managing a chronic illness.

I have fibromyalgia, PCOS, and an anxiety disorder (previously endometriosis as well), so I’m no stranger to living with chronic illness. Mostly, I’ve gotten used to it and learned that a good life is possible, even with suffering (perhaps even especially with suffering). I’ve also, at least recently, taken for granted the security of having health care providers I trust. I had a therapist I’d been working with for over five years; a primary care provider I’d been seeing since I was a child; and an OB/GYN practice that understood PCOS, used a restorative approach to healing rather than suppressing hormones, and, while I was pregnant, valued the life of my unborn child as much as my own.

My therapist left her practice a few months ago, and I decided to take the opportunity to find a Catholic therapist (something like natural family planning is just really hard to talk about with a therapist who doesn’t have a Catholic perspective!). So far, it’s been difficult to find one that is in my insurance network and can practice in my state, though I’ve made some progress on that front this week. Fortunately, my mental health is in a good place right now, so I have some time (though it’s important to note that finding a therapist while you don’t particularly need one is better than waiting until you do!).

Then, this weekend, my OB/GYN practice announced that it was no longer taking obstetric patients and was going out of network with all insurance providers.

I panicked—so much that my husband, hearing my exclamations while reading the email, thought someone had died. There are no NaPro or FEMM providers close enough for comfort when it comes to pregnancy, and most OB/GYN practices are not equipped to help me manage PCOS without the birth control pill. One practice website I looked at even said, “More common cases of irregular periods can be regulated through use of a hormonal birth control.” While it’s true that the pill can alleviate symptoms, it doesn’t regulate the period (or the cycle)—it gets rid of it. It’s a solution I’ve tried and felt OK with at the time, but it’s not a healthy solution, and it’s not one I want to return to. (I’ve also heard horror stories of OB/GYNs withholding medical care, directly or indirectly, from fetuses with adverse diagnoses and was terrified of the possibility bringing any pregnancy to such a doctor.)

Long story short: I found out that two of the providers from my practice are moving to another one, which is in my network, and I am following them there. Sigh of relief. Panic over. Exhaustion sets in.

I made some mistakes in this process, so here are a few lessons I learned that I want to share with anyone else facing a change in their health care:

1. Don’t Panic

I feel justified in being upset about the initial change in my health care plans—having a doctor you trust is important—but I should not have panicked. It all turned out alright, but even if I were still trying to figure out my next steps, that panic would not be helping. You need a clear head in order to make decisions regarding your health care. Take a deep breath; it’s probably not the crisis you think it is. If you need to cry or react emotionally, give yourself a few minutes to do so, and then move forward.

2. Identify What You Need

If you need to look for a new therapist or medical provider, start by making a list of what you’re looking for. First, list the things that are non-negotiable; for example, I need a provider who can help me manage my PCOS without birth control, and I need a pro-life obstetrician so that, if and when I am pregnant again, my husband and I can trust that the baby’s life is just as valued as mine. Next, list the things that you’d like to have but that are not deal-breakers. For example, I’d like a provider within 20 minutes of my home, but I can drive further if needed.

3. Have a Backup Plan

Once you find a good solution, have a backup plan in mind. My backup plan was to go back to my old NaPro provider (two hours away) and find a local obstetrician that was recommended by other pro-life Catholic moms, even if that obstetrician could not meet my gynecologic needs. Ideally, I wanted to see the same person for obstetrics and gynecology—but I had a Plan B if that didn’t work out.

Your health is important, and so is your peace of mind. That peace of mind can come from having a provider you trust, but you can also find some peace in the process of looking for one. Take a deep breath. Say a prayer. After all, your ultimate peace should come from surrendering to the Father who loves you, not from any doctor—no matter how good.

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