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I Woke Up Like This: Coping With Chronic Illness Mornings

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As someone with chronic health issues, mornings are the worst. I am a hot mess for the first couple hours of the day, particularly the period that is pre-coffee. I am not fun to be around. I’m pretty sure it’s why my significant other works out in the morning. He probably also doesn’t appreciate that I set seven alarms each day. He’s smart enough to try and save himself from the chaos.

If my body parts could talk, they would have so many colorful opinions to share. On a good day, they tolerate me. On a bad day, they hate me. I give myself pep talks in the morning. Usually something along the lines of “You are a grown a** adult. You have your sh*t together. You will not fail at life today. Stomach, keep your crap together.” A typical Alice vs. The Body Parts interaction would go something like this:

The struggle to come out of the fog. One of the medications I’m on to treat nausea is also used to treat insomnia. It makes it hard to wake up most morning. On the upside, I sleep like the dead now:

  • Brain: “Remember when you used to go to the science museum as a kid and watch them put the marshmallow in the vacuum chamber? That’s what I feel like.”
  • Eyes: “Keep the sunglasses on, Hoffman. I don’t care if everyone assumes you’re hungover.
coffee mug with yellow smiley face
Alice’s coffee mug

Getting the joints loosened up because rheumatoid arthritis hates mornings:

  • Lower spine: “Snap, crackle, pop.”
  • Right hip: “You didn’t do anything to offend me, but your life just doesn’t seem complicated enough. I think I should have limited range of motion for the day. Just for kicks and giggles. Although you should know that this means it’s going to rain. Hips don’t lie. I’m giving you like 24 hours to prepare. You’re welcome.”

The fallout from any clumsy moments the day before:

  • Third toe from the right on my left foot: “Remember how you tripped recently and dropped a butcher knife and stabbed me? I hate you.”
  • Nose: “Remember how you accidentally just snorted coffee beans? I also hate you. And never become a drug addict, because you would suck at it and would make yourself sneeze repeatedly.”

Calming the gastroparesis down. Or at least getting it to manageable level:

  • Stomach: “It’s cute that you think I’ll listen to you when you order me around. We all know I’m in charge.”
  • Empty space where my gallbladder used to be: “No issues here, boss. But you should strongly consider growing a second stomach and getting rid of the first one. He’s a douche.”
  • Lower GI system: “And a pain in the a**. Literally.”

All the magic in the world can’t make mornings fun. That being said, though, there are things you can do to make them easier.

1. Get enough sleep. This is obvious. Getting enough sleep is directly related to many different facets of health. Get enough sleep. Don’t view sleep as something that can be sacrificed in the name of partying, homework, or binge-watching TV. If you have trouble sleeping (which many chronic illness patients do), talk to your doctor.

2. Give yourself plenty of time to get up and moving. I don’t have to be to work until 9 a.m. My first alarm goes off at 6 a.m. I don’t have to actually be out of bed until 7 a.m, so it gives me a whole hour to adjust to reality and wake up. It also gives me time to slowly get myself to a sitting position, to help minimize the immediate nausea. I don’t have to leave for work until 8:30, so it also gives me plenty of time to shower.

3. Follow whatever recommendations your doctors have about the going-to-sleep process. This could be anything from not eating three hours before bed to taking evenings medications at a certain time. If alcohol is a bad choice for you, don’t drink. Doctors give these recommendations for a reason. If you’re doing what you’re told and still struggling, tell your doctor that.

4. Keep everything you may need nearby. My nightstand is the furniture equivalent to Mary Poppin’s bag. It has everything. This way, I don’t have to rush the waking up process in order to get things like chapstick, water, Zofran, or a book. I’m also more clumsy than usual when I’m still coming out of the fog, so making it so I don’t have to go downstairs reduces my chances of falling and severely injuring myself.

5. Once you find a morning routine that works, stick to it. I go to bed and wake up at pretty much the same time every day, including weekends. I also start the day with mass amounts of coffee and some reading. Hot showers are mandatory. Over time, I’ve found a good system and I stick to it.

6. If you need morning accommodations, talk to someone. I’m mostly talking about jobs here. If you have a disability, you are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. As long as it doesn’t impact your ability to effectively do your job, you may be able to adjust it. Now, this won’t be the case for all jobs. Teachers and doctors, for example, really can’t do their job if they’re not at work. It shouldn’t hurt to ask, though.

7. Understand the difference between a typical bad morning and a debilitatingly bad morning. You likely will have to go to work or school feeling like crap sometimes. That’s OK. There will also be days when it’s truly best for you to stay put. You need to learn the difference, though. If I stayed home every day that I didn’t feel good, I would never make it to work. I also wouldn’t have earned my master’s degree. At some point, you have to learn to not be stressed out by not feeling well. It doesn’t make the symptoms any less, but it makes it easier to function with them. Typically unless it’s not safe for me to drive or I’m throwing up multiple times in a morning, I’ll be at work. When we’re getting close to an infusion, I’m a bit more cautious, though. I’ll do pretty much anything to prevent getting sick and having to reschedule those.

Keep in mind that everyone experiences chronic illness different. These are general guidelines that work for me — that doesn’t mean you will thrive on the same things. Take the time to figure out what works best for you.

Originally published: September 28, 2016
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