Quick Tips for Dealing with Chronic Illness
Quick Tips for Dealing with Chronic Illness
I have lived with a chronic illness for the past 25 years, it is not something you would even know if you saw me in the street (it is considered one of those ‘invisible’ illnesses); the only way you would have any understanding of what I live with, is if you know me really well. As you can imagine, over the past 25 years I have come up with some basic strategies that help me deal with this on a daily basis; and most of these tips are things that can be used in other areas of your life, and/or dealing with other chronic illnesses as well.
My Top 7 Tips Are:
1) Know Your Triggers:
I can tell you my six top triggers off the top of my head, I have had 25 years of figuring these out – and while every person has different triggers, and every illness has different levels; we all know, to some point, what is going to tip us over the edge and bring on a ‘flare up’.
My triggers are:
- Exhaustion / Being run-down
- Eating badly
- Weight gain
Because I know all of these things are triggers, and can cause flare-ups; I can manage them within reason. Obviously there are going to be times when this isn’t possible (summer for instance), so knowing we’ll be going into summer again in a few months – I choose to put other things in place to help minimise the chances for flare-ups (wear loose clothing and make sure they’re natural materials such as cotton, make sure I eat carefully, get enough sleep, stay as cool as possible etc).
There are always ways that we can minimise the impact that these triggers can have on us, by being
mindful of our environment and taking extra precautions. However, if I do still succumb to a flare up, I can generally look back and can pinpoint what brought it on, this allows me the opportunity to put other measures in place, so the next time I find myself in this situation again – I already have a contingency plan in place to help deal with it.
2) Eat Well
This is fairly common sense, and pretty much goes without saying for any illness you suffer from – food has a HUGE impact on our lives in positive and negative ways, and on our health. While your illness may not have started because of your eating, food can still contribute to it significantly; it took me a long time to accept this, as all I wanted to do was to indulge myself during a flare-up. I didn’t believe it could make that much difference to anything except my weight, however as I have got older and wiser (and have done a whole heap of research), I have learnt the opposite, food plays a massive role in our health. I am fairly lenient – I do not follow set rules, and am not anti-sugar (although I might see an even bigger improvement in my health if I was *grin*)!
In our house, we aim at eating mainly whole foods – or food as close to their original source as possible, this is partly due to my own health, but also partly due to having a houseful of allergies! I still have the odd cake out and am very partial to chocolate (you can ask my workmates!), but at home, we cook from scratch and takeaways are very much a treat food only.
3) Get Outside and Exercise
I am not advocating becoming a gym-bunny, nor am I suggesting that you start training for a marathon... I know that when dealing with a chronic illness, anything like this would be almost impossible. However, we can all get outside – you may be in a wheelchair or using a walker already, but make it a priority to get outside and get some fresh air as often as possible. I got to the point when even walking out to my letterbox on some days was almost too much due to the pain, I remember at times having to almost crawl on the floor to go to the toilet because I couldn’t stand up due to the pain. So I know it is hard, and often times like this, it is your mindset as much as the pain holding you back – but fresh air just does something, and it is worth every effort to get outside. If you don’t have the ability to go for a decent walk, just do what you can and build it up from there... but believe me, and just start from where you are – it is worth it.
If you can do some exercise, even moderate exercise – then just get out and do it, not only does it make a difference to your mindset, but it also increases your energy levels and builds resilience, helping you to cope better with your flare-ups. I am now a massive advocate for exercise, as it has made a huge difference in my life, but trust me – I hated it for many years, and the only thing you would have caught me doing was walking (and walking very slowly when I was sore), but I am now at the point where I go to the gym 3x a week for a good hour.
And this appears to go completely against the previous point – but trust me, they go hand in hand. Getting enough sleep helps your body cope better and heal itself as well, so I highly recommend getting yourself into a really good evening routine where you make sure you head off to bed at a reasonable hour and give yourself a solid 7-8 hours minimum sleeping. I suggest (if you can) set a regular time when you stop what you’re doing and spend 20-30 minutes winding down, and getting yourself ready for bed – this trains your body to know what to expect, and over time you will find you sleep better and better. Just the above three things – eating healthily, getting regular exercise and sleeping well, will make a HUGE difference to your life. You may not physically get better, but it will help you cope much better with your illness and subsequent flare-ups; but hopefully, it will also help reduce your pain levels and flare-ups over time.
5) Focus On Gratitude
I am a cup half empty person, and this is definitely an area I still need to continually work on with regards to gratitude, but the older I get the more I see and believe in its benefits! I recommend getting yourself a little notebook, and make a time every day (and keep it regular), to write three things you are grateful for – over time it totally changes your attitude and your perspective on your life. I know it is hard to hear when you’re having a rough day – but there is always someone worse off, not that this is saying your suffering is any less, however, it helps keep things in a little perspective. One thing I have learnt is that everyone has a story, no one gets life handed to them on a silver platter and never has to deal with hurt, pain or grief.
We all have things that have caused us pain and suffering; for some, it may not be physical pain, but
emotional pain, which is extraordinarily difficult to cope with as well. So focus on the things going well in your life, or the positive aspects of life... Some days, especially on those days when you’re in intense pain, it may only be the fact the sun was shining that day, or you got to watch your favourite TV programme, or the cat sat on your lap. It doesn’t have to be big things to change your perspective!
Be gentle and make sure you look after yourself; find a few things that fill you up, and help you feel
better about yourself. This may be as simple as having a long bubble bath by candlelight, or painting your fingernails, but choose a few things that help you refocus... Have a list somewhere, and on those days where the pain, exhaustion or emotions become too much – take a look and choose something to do for yourself that will help you refocus, and recentre. Some days are just hard, and we need to be gentle on ourselves, and this is okay.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Bubble bath (by candlelight or not)
- Paint your nails
- Get a haircut
- Put some makeup on (I am not a makeup person, but I know some ladies just feel better when they
feel they look better)
- Sit down and read a book
- Watch a movie
- Go for a walk
- Do some arts/crafts
- Colour in
- Play computer games
- Buy some junk food (I don’t advocate this, but sometimes you just NEED chocolate)!
- Write in your journal
- Ring a friend
- Go out and visit a friend
- Meditation / Prayer
Anyway – you get it, find a few things that work for you, and make sure you go gentle on yourself when things get a bit rough.
7) Get Support & Be Honest
My final tip is to find some support – this may be in the form of online support groups, or it may be a close friend(s) or family; someone who understands, or at least is prepared to drop everything and listen to you when you’re having a bad day. There is nothing like a physical hug from someone when you’re so sore you can’t even think straight... we all need support, we can’t do life alone. So find your people, and hang on tight to them, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you have found that support person(s) that will be there through thick and thin, they will hate seeing you suffer and will want to do anything to help you – but you need to ask. Sometimes they feel so lost, and just don’t know what to do to help you, so be brave and ask... ask for a meal to be brought around, ask them over for a coffee and a movie just for some company, ring and tell them you’re in pain and just need a listening ear. Whatever it is you need – you need to ask for it, most of the time people are only too willing to help; it may not be straight away if they’re busy, but they will make time and stick to it.
But one thing I know – is that there is nothing like someone else who is living through it, and totally and deeply understands the pain... there is just a connection that is different to any other. A depth of
understanding that is hard to come by – so if you can find a local support group or even an online support group; then do it, attend those meetings, get involved and be as active as possible. It makes such a difference to just be able to say ‘I am sore today, it’s been a rough day’ and know the other person understands and empathises without having to explain exactly what you mean.
So while these points are very general, and don’t all necessarily work for everyone – they are a good
a place to start for anyone struggling with life; chronic illness or not!
Let me know in the comments if you have anything you can add to this list that would help... I am always open to new ideas and interesting ways that may change my day for the better!