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9 Tips to Help You Navigate a Breakup While Chronically Ill

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Breakups are hard. Regardless of whether you were the one to end things or the one on the receiving end of that decision, it’s a tough place to be. And let’s be real here: Breakups touch many areas of your life. If you have chronic illness, you may even feel the breakup in unique ways. Because stress can impact a person with health problems more strongly, the stress of the end of a relationship can cause them to feel physically worse for weeks, even months later. The situation can trigger their symptoms and cause their illness to flare.

I came to understand this on a personal level just this year. In my case, the breakup came on the heels of extreme stress unrelated to my then relationship. It was a year from proverbial hell and my body was struggling at this point already. Suddenly, I had to contend with the grief of parting ways with a person who was an important fixture in my life on top of all that. Taking care of myself physically and mentally in the days following was imperative.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re experiencing the pain of a breakup while chronically ill:

1. Expect your symptoms to flare.

The pain and exhaustion were so bad after my breakup. I booked a hotel room to crash in order to help me rest my body and process mentally the loss. The pain for a couple of weeks afterward was severe, but it did ease with time.

2. Expect that depression may occur.

I was terrified of feeling depressed, because I have a hate relationship with depression. But it’s quite normal to feel depressed when a relationship ends, regardless of whether you made the choice to leave or not. It’s OK to feel down. Be open with your therapist and anyone else who is part of your support system and give yourself time.

3. Take hot showers to cry.

Simply, do this. The hot water calms your tensing muscles as your shoulders shake with the tears.

4. Snuggle with pillows.

Use comfy pillows to offset some of the pain if you’re going to stay a week in bed, depressed. There is no need to hurt any more than you have to.

5. Keep to your health appointments.

I took an entire week off from everything. I didn’t do any of my routine, except for taking my meds. I canceled my responsibilities and then did whatever the hell I wanted. I told myself the next week, starting on Monday, I would return to physical therapy and start my immunotherapy shots for allergies. I needed that time to prepare for showing up to take care of my health three times a week. I took seven days to start processing but got back on the horse to continue taking care of myself. It was one thing I could control. It was something that didn’t change.

6. Take time for yourself to grieve.

I was not prepared for the deep grief that showed up immediately on the scene as soon as I learned my relationship was over. It’s been a roller-coaster of difficult emotions that have followed, and it wasn’t until I assigned the proper title of “grief” to those emotions did it finally make sense. Grieving a loss is to be expected and that includes the grief of a breakup. A therapist can help with this.

7. Surround yourself with the people who haven’t left you.

Support during a breakup is so helpful. Don’t worry about being a burden. Breakups happen universally and chances are the people in your life understand the pain firsthand. Talk to the trusted people in your life.

8. Date yourself.

Binge-watch that show you know by heart, blast your favorite music (hint: avoid any special songs you had with your ex), eat lots of chocolate and ice cream if your diet allows it, and remember wearing PJs throughout the day is totally fine. Pamper yourself, shower, don’t forget to eat and take your meds.

9. Most importantly, know this will pass.

You’ll stop crying every day about it. You’ll start smiling again and it will become normal again to hear yourself laugh. Remember your worth is not based on your chronic illness. Dream again of the possibilities. You’ll find love again, and maybe it’ll stay or maybe it will leave, but you will feel it again. Be easy on yourself. You’re allowed to grieve and heal from a breakup.

Getty image by Viktoria Ilina.

Originally published: August 7, 2021
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