Learning to optimistically live with chronic illness
Health and wellness touch each of you in different ways. If you’re someone who has been persistently ill for a while, you can understand that you have your share of good days and bad days. Well, in a way, they are flip sides of the same coin. Just as we cannot get heads each time we toss our coin, we cannot only have good days when battling with an illness.
Many of you may have seen days when your symptoms hit you like a tsunami! A bad day may displace you to a state of negativity and frustration. You feel frustrated for your inability to change the situation, to cure your illness, or to overcome your pain, which often boils up to anger and you end up in tears! Sounds familiar! Isn’t it?
On such days, everything seems to be falling apart and you feel like a victim who is unnecessarily going through all that pain and suffering. Well, if you think deeply, the ‘victim mindset’ does no good for your well being. If anything, it only worsens your situation. The point then is, what can you do on a rough day to make things!
To ‘learn to live with a chronic illness’ is not a cakewalk, but learning to effectively cope with your flare days is surely going to take you a step up on the ladder.
YOU CAN SURVIVE A FLARE DAY WITH THESE 10 STEPS
- Accept Your Pain And It’s Impermanence – It’s important to start acknowledging that some days for you will be harder than others. Denial and anger neither conceal your symptoms nor help you cope with them. Conversely, they cause more frustration and anxiety. Awareness and acknowledgment, on the other hand, go a long way in building your preparedness to keep up with the day. The good part is that the only constant in this world is ‘change’. Nothing is permanent and the Universe strives on this principle of impermanence. This implies that even though, at the time your symptoms are all flared up, you may feel like “this is how your life is going to be”, this cannot be the case!
- Post it to remind yourself – Remind yourself multiple times in a day that everything is in flux, including your symptoms! You can paste inspirational posters to remind yourself that you’ve by far lived 100% of your bad days and this one is no different.
- Reminisce an old picture or even a video – Looking at your old pictures will remind you about the impermanence of everything. Just like you’ve had happy days and are now in the middle of a rough day, you will again have happy days to yourself!
2. Listen To Your Body And Respect What It Says – It’s okay to feel betrayed by your body when it fails to support you on your bad days. It may make you feel resentful and you might try to fight it by pushing your energy levels even harder to counteract your lethargy. However, fighting it only worsens the situation as it further weakens your body and adds stress to the already existing problem. The key is to listen to how your body feels and to honor it. If your body tells you it needs rest, rest! If your body requires you to sleep, just sleep! Understand that your body is one of the best health regulating systems, all you have o do is listen to it intently.
- Develop a habit to introspect – Whenever you feel overworked, ask yourself ‘what do I need?’ This is one question you ask everyone else and seldom give yourself the honor to understand what exactly your body needs at ay given time. Do you need a sound sleep, a warm cup of tea, a little comfort food, or some quiet time? Give yourself the consent to fulfill your needs because you deserve it!
- Practice mindfulness to attune to your body – You can develop a habit to do yoga or meditate regularly, even if you’re doing it for just 15-20 minutes. This will not only help you connect to your body, but will open avenues for you to listen to your body when it softly whispers rather than to wait for it to scream for attention!
3. Remember That It’s Just A Day, Not Your Entire Life – By now, you already know how impermanence is your friend as it reminds you of ‘this too shall pass’! Engraving this in your mind, remember to never set in stone how you’re feeling on a bad day. Drop your habit of taking what’s happening right now and worrying about its impact on your future. You’re already having a tough day and to top it off with future worries and exaggerated worst-case scenarios will only make surviving through the present day more difficult.
- Create affirmations that work for you – Use affirmations like “This is just a bad day. It’s making me feel sad and disappointed, but it is what it is at the present moment.” Addressing it like this, even if it temporarily makes you cry, will eventually keep your aversion and helplessness at bay by getting you at terms with the impermanence of the situation. Also, it will help you deal with the symptoms without taking a toll on your mental and emotional well being.
- Live in the ‘here and now’ – It’s easier to take things one day at a time and to be in the present! It breaks down tasks and feelings and makes dealing with stress easier. Living in the present will sound like “I am in pain and have no energy to get up. The doctor thinks it’s normal to feel that given my illness. I am going to rest today and give myself a break from anything that will exhaust me. That’s all I can do right now”.
4. Talk To Someone You Can Confide In – Sometimes all you need is no pep talk, no motivational speech, no reassurances, or any tall promise, but a person simply telling you that that they understand what you’re going through right now! To tell you that all your feelings are valid! After all, nothing speaks support like “I Understand You”! Sharing what you’re going through and how you feel about it has a way of making you feel light like a feather. It’s like lifting kilograms of weight off your shoulders! The best part is that you can call, meet, text or even mail to share!
- Contact someone with a similar experience – It’s almost natural to connect to someone who has a similar life experience to yours. It’s intriguing how sharing your feelings with someone who has been sailing in the same boat can suddenly make you feel like you’re not alone. It gives you the strength to live through your bad days and makes you more hopeful for the good ones. Undeniably, the power of two is greater than one!
- At the loss of such a person, You be that person for yourself – Yes! you can be that person for yourself as no one knows your story better than you! Be compassionate and empathetic to your gloomy feelings. Be there to gently tell yourself “I know things are so hard right now. I feel sorry for you are having such a hard day. I am there for you”
5. Re-plan Your Entire Day – Flare days usually come unannounced, which makes it understandable if you have a full day’s plan laid out in front of you beforehand. However, you need to re-prioritize and put aside tasks that aren’t essential or can be dealt with later on. Most of you don’t think this is an option as you’re always so obligated to outdo your illness. However, re-planing your day is a key step as on such days, your attention span goes for a toss. It takes you more energy and effort than usual to do even the most mundane tasks.
- Make a list of ‘have to’ tasks – Take a paper or use your phone’s notepad to pen down tasks that you feel are important to be done the same day! These tasks may vary as per your circumstances. Like for someone with an infant, taking care of him/her is non-negotiable or for someone with an old parent, ensuring they have their medicines isn’t something you can put on hold. But, whatever it may be, be wise in choosing these tasks, and be strict with yourself to not overdo!
- Re-evaluate your task list – Go through your list later in the day again and be relentless in eliminating tasks that you feel aren’t as important or absolutes. Make sure you don’t burn out by doing things that weren’t necessities in the first place. Give yourself some break and above all, prioritize your health!
6. Never Shy Away From Seeking Help – There are times when you feel at the loss of resources like physical strength and energy, it is in times like these, that you can look out for assistance. You may pursue help to complete tasks on your “absolutely have to do” task list like getting groceries from the market or there might be days where you may need help to maybe go on a slow walk to feel good about yourself.
- Don’t be harsh on yourself -As much as you’d want to do everything by yourself independently, sometimes, it just won’t be possible. So be gentle with yourself and look out for help. The key is to not make unnecessary demands on yourself and to share the load with someone.
- Never see taking help as a form of burden – If you’re reluctant to ask for help as you feel it will weigh heavily on someone else, you will come to realize that people often feel happy to pitch in. Most people feel good about themselves when they can be of help to someone else.
7. Love Yourself All Along The Journey- You may lack control over your illness or your flare days. But, one of the things that you do exercise full control over is how you treat yourselves. As simple as it appears, most of you find it to be the most challenging step of the way! Life with a chronic illness isn’t easy. The least you can do is ease your burden by being kind towards yourselves! The point is to treat yourself as you treat the most loved people of your life.
- Ask yourself how you’d treat a loved one in a similar situation – Think of how you would’ve treated someone else if he/she would’ve been where you are, then turn around and treat yourself with the same compassion, love, care, and tenderness. Or it may sometimes help to recall someone else’s behavior who have eased your day. Try and imitate similar behavior for yourself!
- Do something nice for yourself – If you truly set your mind, you sure can do something to pamper yourself even on bad days. It can be watching your favorite movie, cuddling with your pet, talking to your mum, sipping a hot cup of tea, or simply lying in bed listening to music.
8. Cautiously Draw Out The Trigger – There are times when it’s easy to spiral back and derive a trigger for your flare and at other times, it’s hard to put your finger on a cause. The crucial point is to remember that no matter what the cause, may it be due to overactivity or due to some complacency, never blame yourself! It is natural to go over your limits at times, it is no way possible that you could have thought that it would lead to a flare-up in your symptoms. So again, be kind to yourself.
- Be a quick learner – Not indulging in self-blame in no way implies that you can’t learn from your mistakes. Think of the things that could’ve triggered the symptoms and make sure you don’t do that again. This is a more productive way to move ahead than to blame yourself and add to your already existing challenges.
- Relax and zap stress – It makes no sense stressing about the cause or the symptoms you’re experiencing as this has the potential of making things worse. So just take a few deep breaths and relax! Everything will be fine. Just remember, to simply not repeat the same mistake twice. No further thoughts that that!
9. Shift Your Mindset From Being ‘Problem Saturated’ To Being ‘Solution Focussed’ – It’s good to remember that you can’t always expect life to go as per your plans. But you sure can redirect the current situation to create value. Running after the “Why Me’s” is seldom a great use of your energy. So instead of being worked up about the problem in hand, its causes, and impact, it would be good to make ‘what you can do about it’ the focal point!
- Take medical help – Learn from your doctor ways in which you can prevent your symptoms from flaring ups and follow through. These may include dietary changes, including a mild exercise regimen in your routine or anything that builds your immunity.
- Remember your triggers – If at all, you could successfully map down the causes, remember them, and make sure you never do anything that has caused you pain in the past again. Continue to learn from your mistakes and have boundaries to safeguard yourself.
10. Look for the Silver Lining– Even amidst the most difficult times, if you’re able to find something that makes you even slightly happy, it will shift your focus from sulking and overthinking to something positive. If not shift, it will in the very least, divide your attention from the negative spiral of emotions. As difficult as it may be, once you practice gratitude regularly, you’ll feel its power to heal you.
- Make a list of things you’re grateful for – This list may include people, events, memories, or things that you feel blessed to have encountered as they add some value to your life. If initially, you face difficulty in coming up with things, persevere, and keep up to it and include the simplest of things that give you joy. From quiet times to fun memories with friends and family, write down everything that has touched your soul. And, once you do, make sure you see this list each day. It will be a reminder to you about how good your life has been so far and how good it will be again in the future!
- If you can’t find anything substantial, create it – You can either watch stand up comedy, listen to some soothing music, light up aromatic candles, or take a hot bubble bath to make you feel good for a little while.
Take Away Message –
Living with any chronic illness presents numerous challenges. One day you feel all powered up and high spirited, whereas, on other days, you feel so low physically and mentally, that you begin to wonder if you’re ever going to live without pain. I can’t guarantee you a smooth journey, but what I can guarantee is that if you apply a few of these strategies, your road sure will become less bumpy. Remember, problems are inevitable, however, whether you suffer from those problems or not is purely subjective.
If you have any other strategies that work for you or anything you’d like to share, write to us in the comments below.
Sending good wishes to you.
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