17 Lessons I Learned During My Year With Chronic Illness
Before I start, I wanted to say that I am “lucky” to be struggling with an illness that I believe will get better with time, and eventually go away. If I am lucky and work hard, it will be gone completely in the next year or two. These suggestions are written from that perspective, of chronic illness as a temporary thing. For some, chronic illness is just that – chronic, and permanent. My heart goes out to these people and the struggles that they face. I hope that if that is you, that you will still find something helpful in this list.
1. It is possible to live without coffee, sugar, gluten, alcohol and so many other things I never thought I could give up. Don’t be afraid of altering your diet if it’s going to make you feel better. It’s true what they say – you get use to it. I’m thankful that I’ve stumbled upon some very healthy habits that I might not have adopted if I wasn’t forced to. And seriously, I love what I eat.
2. It is OK to dial back socially. I used to go out for happy hours multiple nights each week, and my weekends were jam-packed. At first I started dialing back because I didn’t know what to do in social situations since I had so much on my mind all the time and couldn’t engage in typical party behaviors that other people could. After a while, it became a habit and without thinking about it, I started to really enjoy my alone time or the few special times each month I do something with friends. I have had more time for hobbies such as writing, yoga and cooking, and I save so much money. And, time spent on yourself is never wasted.
3. Living with chronic illness can be a dichotomy of looking good on the outside and feeling awful on the inside. Communicating how you feel can be exhausting, but it’s the only way to not feel completely alone in your illness. Don’t get mad when people tell you you look good – they’re only trying to help.
4. Exercise is so good for not only your health, but your mind and spirit. I was afraid to exercise too much when I first got sick, but now that I’ve gotten back into a routine, I miss it so much. Even if you can only do a few yoga postures, it’s a great way to take your mind off of how you’re feeling, and helps your body by circulating blood and oxygen around the body. It also reminds you how strong you are!
5. Have a nightly ritual. It is something to look forward to on the really hard days, and good preparation for a good night of sleep. Mine has become a long Epsom salt soak with a favorite book or TV show. No phones!
6. As your routines and social life change, your friends will too. The good ones will keep coming back, no matter how many times you let them down or can’t make it to the party. The not-so-good ones were not worth it if they aren’t willing to be there for you during this time.
7. Not everyone is going to care about what you’re going through – in fact, many people don’t. It’s not their fault, they have their own problems. Unless they’ve been through it, it’s hard to relate to. Take heart in the fact that you have a few close friends and/or family members that care deeply, and be thankful for them.
8. Be thankful for everything, as much as you can! It can always be worse. It’s cliché, but focusing on the positive can get you through so many bad moments.
9. Create a more uplifting narrative for yourself when you’re going through hard times. You’re feeling yucky because what you’re doing is working and the bad stuff is dying off. Or, this is a learning experience that has taught you to avoid x, y or z, and avoid even worse experiences down the road.
10. Tallow balm is amazing. I wish someone had told me about this when I first had eczema in high school. After trying a prescription steroid cream for three months that failed to resolve the problem long-term, tallow balm and food sensitivity testing brought the end to my eczema. Also, it’s December and my skin hasn’t felt dry one day. Make this recipe.
11. Celebrate the small victories, no matter how small! If there is anything that chronic illness has taught me, it is to appreciate every single good moment. You made it to yoga today? You’re awesome! You brushed your teeth and put on mascara? Amazing!
12. Don’t look at time spent with illness as wasted time. It’s a time out that allows you to slow down and reevaluate your life. Some people will never take the chance to do that, and while you didn’t ask for it, try to look at it as a blessing.
13. Find friends that are going through the same thing on social media – Instagram has been a great source for me. But, try not to spend too much time there. It’s too easy to develop feelings of jealousy as you scroll through photos of happy people living their “best lives.” It’s easy to forget that these people have problems too. Get off of social media and connect with real people.
14. A good practitioner is worth their weight in gold. On the other hand, if you’re seeing a practitioner that you don’t quite trust, or are suspicious of, go see someone else. If you don’t trust them completely, you’re not going to get better under their care.
15. Always go with your gut. No matter what a practitioner says will or will not work for you, pay attention to how their recommendation makes you feel. If it doesn’t feel right, get a second opinion or just ignore them. That being said, there’s a difference between something not feeling right and just not wanting to do it. Try to not limit yourself to what you believe you can handle and what you can’t – I believe you can handle anything with enough time and patience.
16. Never underestimate the power of a good sick day. Staying in your PJs and Netflixing all day is good for the soul sometimes. Maybe not every day, even though you might feel like that’s all you want to do. But once in a while, it’s great. You’ve more than earned it.
17. There will always be people that don’t believe that you’re actually sick. Don’t waste any time or energy trying to prove anything to them. You know how you feel, and how much it impacts your life.
And my goal for 2018: If there’s any way you can, lean in to your illness. Feel the pain, but know that it is only temporary and it will pass. Enjoy the quiet moments and slower pace of life that time off due to illness affords. Make taking care of yourself your top priority – put baths in front of parties, cooking homemade meat stock in front of dinner at a fancy restaurant, wear pajamas all day when you feel like it.
This is your journey, your life. It’s very different from what everyone else is doing, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s still your one, wild and precious life and it’s yours to make the most of, in sickness or in health.
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