Dr. Steiner's Tools for Change


In my new book I will introduce practical tools to help people living with chronic illness and pain find ways to create (or re-create) and sustain pleasure, satisfaction, and meaning in life. One tool is to nickname your illness or limitation. You and those who care about you are invited to participate by:

  • Sharing the nickname you use for the medical problem, syndrome, or illness that is part of all of your lives.
  • Sharing one-liners that you use for describing or referring to the medical problem, syndrome, or illness that is part of your lives.

Winning entries for each catagory will be listed on this website, with credit for the authors, and used in my forthcoming self-help book and future publications.


Learning to live with chronic illness or limitation is not easy. (Some would even say it isn't for wimps!) Having chronic pain or illness is not something we ask to have happen in our lives. Yet, somehow we need to avoid either of these extremes: seeing ourselves as the illness OR ignoring it completely. This is a challenging process that usually takes time and changes in lifestyle. One way to make room for your illness without letting it take over, is to give it a nickname. Giving your limitations a nickname can also be a helpful way to talk with others about having a chronic illness.

For example, Arthur, of Arthur-itis, is my Uninvited Life Partner. If I tell friends that Arthur has moved into my knee today, we can figure out how we can spend time together without making Arthur grumpier. On good days I can happily report that Arthur won't object to going for a walk. I use a person's name for my illness. Some people are more comfortable choosing a name that describes the illness or limitation, rather than using a person's name.

What nickname do you have for your uninvited life companion? Some people find it hard to get help because their illness is invisible or hidden. Have you found a way to talk about your illness to the important people in your life? Consider writing down a list of possible nicknames, maybe discuss this idea with a trusted friend. Once you find a nickname that seems right, test it out with a few people you are comfortable with. You'll be surprised at the conversations it leads to!


When thinking about nicknaming your illness keep these three things in mind:

  • If the name you choose is humorous, some people may think you don't want them to take the illness or you seriously.
  • If you choose a name that makes the illness The Enemy, or sounds too negative it may be harder to find a way to coexist peacefully with it.

Think about whether you are comfortable with other people talking with you about, or asking you about, your nicknamed illness. Decide whether you want to be the only one that uses the nickname. There is no "correct" answer to this question. Yet, if you want to be the only one that uses it, let people know.

This article is based on sections of her forthcoming self-help book.
Please do not use this material without the author's written consent.

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© Ann Steiner, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Reproduction without the author's written consent is prohibited.

Last Updated: April 6, 2016