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How Stress Management Plays a Role in My Chronic Illness

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For the last week or so, I’ve been dealing with what appears to be some sort of autoimmune flare that has manifested itself in rash, hives and welts that are blissfully unresponsive to OTC antihistamines and steroid cream. It started on my shoulders and spread onto my chest, neck, trunk, forearms and legs, with varying degrees of severity and itching/burning sensation. After realizing the stuff wasn’t dissipating on its own, I went ahead and paid a visit to my PCP. I trust her and she’s thorough, and she could fit me in the same afternoon I called. After ruling out (reasonably…we didn’t re-do allergy testing or anything) allergic reaction, contact dermatitis, shingles, infection, etc., she very gently said, “I wish I could pinpoint some specific cause for you, but I’m afraid this is an autoimmune reaction to stress and exhaustion.”

That hit me like a shot to the gut. It would have been infinitely more comforting to be able to point to “the thing” that triggered this. “The thing,” it turns out, is my life. (The doc and I had a good laugh about that during my visit.) She followed up by asking if I’d been under any extra stress the last couple of weeks. Well…no, nothing out of the ordinary. In fact this is one of smoothest “new semester start-ups” I’ve ever had in my job at a local university.  She said something like, “Well…I think we’ve already learned that you just need to be extra careful…managing your stress, making sure you’re getting plenty of rest…”

Me [in my head]: Uh…I kinda thought I was doing that?  Apparently, I need to step up my game.  But how…?

Also me: Been getting to bed later than I should be, partly, I realize, because I have been working some later hours. So there’s one thing I can be more mindful of. And I know I kind of let my eating go over the holidays and haven’t been as attentive as I should be about being sure I’m fueling the old girl (my body) well. And I’ve been sick on and off since before Christmas, so my exercise routine has gotten a little out of whack. Oooohhhhh…..OK, yeah.  I see it now.

Me again: [sigh.]

Feels like a second (nonpaying) job, this keeping up with yourself and having a balanced life thing. I think it actually feels that way for most people. I just have a little less room to fudge it than a lot of folks. It’s frustrating and unfair, but it is what it is, and I have to work with what I’ve got. So I just need to slow down and pull it together. Remain calm. Follow the signs to the nearest exit and proceed in an orderly fashion. That’s it…nice and easy.  Don’t panic and rage-clean the apartment you cleaned rather thoroughly last weekend.  Don’t do anything “RASH” (heh heh — see what I did there?).

If I seem short (NO, that is not a joke about my height — I’m almost 5’2″, thank you very much), cut me some slack, alright?  You’d be short too if you’d just spent 10 days covered in ever-morphing rash and feeling like you’d been run over by a steamroller.

Getty image by RossHelen

Originally published: February 17, 2021
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