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19 'Bad Habits' That Develop Because of Chronic Illness

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Do you bite your nails? Online shop too much? Do you sometimes sit down to watch TV for 30 minutes and find yourself still sitting there four hours later? If you’re nodding your head right now, you’re not alone. Everyone develops a “bad habit” or two (or 20) in their lifetime. It’s human nature.

Most bad habits aren’t even “bad” per se, they’re more like guilty pleasures you might tend to overindulge in — like binge-watching Netflix. But when you live with a chronic illness life gets a bit more complicated, which means there’s a chance your “bad habits” might be a bit more complicated too.

Perhaps your chronic illness means you are always tired and therefore sleep-in whenever possible. Getting the rest your body needs isn’t a bad thing, but when your sleep schedule is erratic you might feel like you’ve “wasted” the day sleeping. Or, maybe your unpredictable symptoms mean you have to cancel plans a lot. Of course, it’s OK to put your needs first, but you might have gotten into the habit of over apologizing to “make up” for your absence.

The reality is many of the habits society deems “bad,” act as coping mechanisms for navigating the world of chronic illness. A nutritionist might tell you it’s “bad” to eat fast food every day, but if you are too tired to cook or medical bills make it hard to afford healthier options, that “bad” meal might be the best you can do.

To prove you’re not alone in your “bad habits,” we asked The Mighty’s chronic illness community what habits they’ve developed living with a chronic illness.

Here’s what our community shared.

1. Not Drinking Enough Water

“I have a bad habit of not staying hydrated during a flare. The pain and nausea get so bad that I can’t even drink water, so I end up getting dehydrated, which only makes things worse.” – Samantha V.

2. Hitting Snooze on the Alarm Clock Too Much

“Snoozing my alarm several times because I’m so exhausted and out of it in the morning.” – Christine F.

3. Over-Apologizing

“I apologize for everything, even things I know I don’t need to [apologize for]. I apologize when others see me sick or during a flare-up because I know it’s not exactly how they want to see me.” – Rhiannon S.

“I say sorry for everything. I even apologize for apologizing! It’s hard when someone gets mad at me for saying sorry because I don’t know how to tell them I’m apologizing for my existence.” – Sarah B.

4. Taking Frustrations Out on Others

“Rage outbursts on the people I love. When my pain is really high, I take it out on others. It’s something I’m working on daily to fix.” – Kristen Kehl.

“I say things that are critical of others because I am insecure of myself all the time now. I know it’s a reflection of how I feel about myself, yet I still find myself saying things my personality normally wouldn’t act like. I’m ashamed.” – @inch-by-inch

5. Always Saying Yes

“Saying yes when my body is screaming no. I’m a people pleaser and I pay the price for it far too often.” – Diana C.

6. Drinking Too Much Caffeine

“Caffeine addiction. I’m actually weaning off right now – second time this year breaking it. But I’m so fatigued, and I’m almost certainly going to fall back into it again because I simply cannot function through the exhaustion.” – Carol S.

“I rely on sodas to keep me going through the day. (Shame.)” – Kimberly S.

“So much caffeine every day (to help with fatigue). I know I’m stressing my heart out and whatever, but I need stimulants to function.” – Shannon B.

7. Sleeping-In a Lot

“I sleep until 2:00 P.M. because I can’t sleep at night. (I’m writing this at 1:30 A.M.) It makes it very hard to be part of the outside world at all.” – Julia R.

8. Being Too Hard on Yourself

“On my really rough days, I lay there and beat myself up a bit. I think I should have accomplished more on my better days and I’m mad I can’t ‘push through’ on my rough days.” – Karen O.

9. Skin-Picking and Other Nervous Habits

“I pick at my arms. There is a rash and when I have pain from my chronic illness in my sleep, I wake up picking. I wear turtle necks which helps, but sometimes I still get in there.” – @onya

“I notice I unconsciously bite/chew my cheeks inside my mouth when I’m trying ignore pain. I don’t notice until it hurts or breaks the skin. I chew gum to avoid this, but that hurts my jaw.” – Meghan C.

“I have developed nervous habits like pulling the skin off my feet. The problem is that it tears it off until it bleeds and then I have to wear several Band-Aids while it heals.” – @dogmom1148

10. Avoiding Activities

“I am afraid of pain, so my bad habit is that I decline opportunities to do new things that I would love to do out of fear that the new thing may increase my pain level.” – Pedro JM.

“I avoid people and activities a lot because it’s easier than facing what might happen.” – @dpirke

11. Swearing

“I would say swearing. I’ve turned into a sailor. I even freak myself out. But it’s almost therapeutic.” – Alicia M.

12. Lying

“I lie. I lie when people ask how I’m doing. I have a great fear of burdening others or make them think that I am just complaining. I have had a lot of negative responses to my fatigue in the past and I try to hide it. In the end, I am the only one who greatly suffers physically and emotionally.” – Marlinda G.

13. Ignore Personal Hygiene

“Not brushing my teeth at bedtime or washing my face. I’m too tired and sore.” – Pauline B.

“Not showering everyday and washing my hair only every two days because it feels like a mission.” – Krystal B.

“I put off showering, brushing my teeth, anything. I’ll just lay around all day, even if I’m feeling well.” – Christa C.

14. Coming Off as Rude or Terse

“I stop saying please and thank you and I start giving orders when I’m just asking for help. It comes off as mean and rude, but I’m in extreme pain and my mind can’t think about that [in the moment].” – Angela K.

15. Going Beyond Your Limits

“When I do something, I always overdo it to prove I’m not lazy. I push myself so hard that I end up in worse shape than I began!” – Letia N.

“I do too much so that others won’t judge me. I’m actually about to head to work with a fever.” – @hwomack16

16. Blaming Yourself

“I cry about everything! I manage to turn everything bad that happens, no how little or big, into my fault. If somehow it didn’t get done, we didn’t make it somewhere, we don’t have any money, dinner was ruined… everything comes back to my chronic illness. And then I cry. The guilt that comes with being sick is real and consuming, and then I apologize for crying again! My husband is a saint!” – Mandi F.

17. Questioning Yourself

“I question my own experience: Maybe I am lazy? Other moms do this or that. I don’t have the strength, but I don’t have as many kids as so and so. Maybe I am a bad mom? I know I only take my meds when I need them, but maybe I am addicted and don’t really need them? [This goes on] and on and on.” – Barbara B.

18. Avoiding Doctor’s Appointments

“I postpone going to the doctor a lot. I hate it so much. And most of the time, I get laughed at or not taken seriously. My neurologists are great. I see them all the time, but regular doctor freak me out. And every time I go to the emergency room, I got a lecture because I waited too long or said a pain level too low for what I have.” – Caroline M.

19. Making Less Healthy Food Choices

“I eat terrible when I’m in a flare. I’m in too much pain or too exhausted to prepare healthy nutritious foods.” – Amy N.

“Eating ice cream every night because so many things are difficult. I deserve a treat. I know it’s unhealthy.” – Cheryl A.

“I’ve gotten better about this, but I had the habit of eating tons of pretzels every day because it would help with my nausea. This caused me to gain weight (that I had lost when I first became ill). Luckily, I eat them in moderation now because I didn’t want to weigh more than I had before I became sick.” – Katie B.

If any of these “bad habits” sound familiar, know you’re not alone. If you need help or are struggling, please reach out to someone you trust. You can also connect with The Mighty’s chronic illness community by sharing a thought or question with your experience.

If you want to know more about life with chronic illness, check out these articles:


Originally published: December 3, 2019
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