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How Learning to 'Unplug' Helped Me Cope With Chronic Illness

I should have known it was too good to be true.

Every time I think I’ve got my chronic illnesses under control, something happens that throws me for a loop.

This past weekend it was a migraine that lasted for almost three days.

Last week it was back to back hip subluxations and dislocated fingers.

The week before that, crushing, debilitating fatigue.

And on and on it goes.

This week, my depression and anxiety made a surprise visit and completely knocked the wind out of my sails.

“I have nothing to be depressed about,” I reasoned with myself. “Things are great, why are you so sad?”

And things were great. I had made new friends, reconnected with old ones and just generally enjoyed myself.

I should have been more careful, because it’s times like these that depression likes to sink its claws in and start lying to me. I knew this would happen. It always does. I should have been prepared for it!

But I wasn’t. I mindlessly scrolled Facebook for over an hour, desperate to find something to quell the rising anxiety and panic. It’s a coping technique that has served me well in the past.

Just distract yourself until you can calm your breathing and slow your heart rate, I told myself.

And it worked for a little bit. I chatted with friends via messenger and shared memes and jokes, and for a short time, the anxiety loosened its grip.

I don’t know what changed or when it changed. But suddenly my tried and true coping technique imploded and sent me reeling backwards. The things that before had helped me cope were suddenly attacking me even harder than before. I was reading between the lines and seeing things that weren’t there.

The darkness gained a foothold and began lying to me. Paranoia and fear of abandonment all but consumed me. I was convinced that everyone hated me, that they were merely tolerating my presence, that no one actually cared about me. My messenger app stared blankly back at me, as if to confirm my fears.

In the midst of my agitation, I deactivated everything. Facebook, messenger and all of my social media apps. I just needed it to stop. And suddenly there it was — the peace I had been looking for.

I got up and made dinner. I had a cup of tea. I sat out on the patio and just enjoyed being outside. I wrote this post. And for the first time in weeks, I truly felt relaxed.

In today’s world it can be so easy to get drawn into the trap of needing to be “connected,” to believe if you’re not plugged in, you’re somehow missing everything. It can be easy to cling to old coping techniques even when they are no longer working.

Today I learned something important about myself — I need to unplug once in a while to just reset and clear away the cobwebs.

It’s OK to use social media as a coping technique. But the cool thing about coping techniques is that there are many, and you can rotate them in and out of your arsenal as needed.

You’re not a failure if you need to switch up your coping methods occasionally.

Be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break. Unplug. Unwind. And come back later with a clear mind.

Breathe deep.

Drink your water.

Take your meds.

And remember:

You got this.

Getty image by Amenic181.