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8 Little Tricks That Help Me Cope With My Illness

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When you have a chronic illness, you develop special ways of coping. Little tricks that we may not have used when we were “normal,” but that make all the difference in the world now. I used to consider it a strength that I never kept a calendar or a planner of any kind, and yet I never missed appointments. Now I have two doctor’s appointments a week, plus an ongoing to-do list, and I can’t live without my planner. There was a time I would have thought myself a failure for this… but now I don’t.  

The little things that help us cope are not bad things. They are your empowerments, and your reminders that even if you need to do things a little differently than someone else or it takes you a little (or a lot) longer, you can still move mountains.  

1. “You Time” doesn’t necessarily mean a whole afternoon.

Seriously, it can mean a 30-minute bath or a short nap or reading a book, or even Facebook-ing. Whatever helps you recharge. Short amounts of time can have big effects!  

2. To-do lists are wonderful things.

I do a weekly one. I have six things on my to-do list this week. That way, if I get five of them done on Monday, you better believe I feel ready to conquer the world. Plus, forgetful me…

3. So are planners.  

Not the planner on your phone, although that can be great for some people. I use an actual paper planner, bound in purple plastic with a cool sticker on the front. I can paperclip doctor’s notes in there, to-do lists, and any other random thing that comes my way. Plus, I can look back at last week without having to remember how to get to it, and think “Oh yeah, I did do that!” which is great for those of us with illness-induced forgetfulness.  

4. Slippers

I don’t know about you, but my feet get cold easily, and one of my weird symptoms is that my feet and ankles make it difficult for me to walk for the first 15 steps after I get up. Slippers at least make things more comfortable, even if they are a cheap slip-on pair from a big chain store.

5. Peppermint and lavender oils

Peppermint oil is relaxing and soothing to my sore muscles, and it’s also soothing to my mind. Just sitting in a bath with peppermint oil makes me breathe deeper, and breathing means my muscles are moving, and that helps loosen up tension. Lavender oil is also wonderful for my sore muscles, and it’s good for relaxing my mind in preparation for sleep, which makes it fabulous for evening baths.  

6. Tea

Hot or cold, it doesn’t matter. During the winter, I love Gingerbread Spice or Bengal Spice tea with plenty of honey or agave nectar, and during the summer, a cup of slow-steeped peppermint iced tea really hits the spot. Try not to relax with your hands wrapped around a warm mug of tea!  

7. Animal therapy is the most wonderful thing ever.

Horses are experts at distraction: they beg for treats, they rub their halters off, they can read our emotions better than we can ourselves. A cat thinks the fact that you spend 16 hours a day in bed is the best thing in the world, and you must be another cat! A dog, no matter what breed, finds its home with you, not where they live, so if they are with you they will be truly happy, and that is unbelievably comforting. Ferrets also love to sleep and burrow, and a warm fuzzy little thing worming it’s way up to curl in a ball on your shoulder in bed is the most wonderful thing. If a horned toad is your thing, I know even that can distract and comfort you. Heck, even fish have the ability to recognize people and respond, and that’s pretty cool for something with gills!

8. Realizing that “normal” rules no longer apply to me… and that’s OK!

No matter how many times you review the Spoon Theory with someone, some people are never going to understand. Some people are still going to look at you on a good day and think you’re better. They’re never going to understand that you’ll need to recover for two days afterward. That’s OK. Really, it is. You don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself. You are not accountable to these people. If they don’t understand after time after time of explaining, pull an epic hair flip and move on. You are the way you are, and no one but you will ever truly understand that. 

Originally published: September 9, 2016
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