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7 Ways to Increase Your Chances of a Peaceful Existence With Your Illness

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Living with chronic illness is hard. It’s messy, time-consuming and expensive. It can also give you insight and help you grow into a better person. It’s like a relationship. There’s a lot of give and take, a lot of compromising, and both laughter and tears. It also makes you realize how strong you are, and makes you want to be a better person. Fingers crossed I haven’t completely offended my significant other with that metaphor.

Like with relationships, there are things you can do to increase your chances of a peaceful existence with your illness.

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1. Recognize patterns and plan accordingly. I’m completely aware that my significant other will not want to work on home improvement projects if the Detroit Tigers are playing. Therefore, if I need something done, I ask before first pitch. Same goes for illness, but I am in no way saying that chronic illness is predictable. If anything, it’s predictably unpredictable. You typically don’t know if it will be a good day or a bad day when you wake up. However, if you look closely, you can probably spot some trends and patterns. For example, I’m at my worst in the morning. It’s bad news bears. I know this, so I plan ahead. I pre-set the coffee maker, pack my lunch and pick out my clothes for the next day every night. I know that I cannot be trusted to make decisions in the morning. It’s like expecting to live if you feed a gremlin after midnight. It’s just not going to happen.

2. Don’t let the to-do list build up. There is nothing more sad than a mile-long to-do list. So don’t let it get to that. Many people do all their cleaning in one day, but that’s just not possible for me. I tried recently, but ended up in the fetal position on the kitchen floor. I do a little bit every day in small intervals. I don’t unload the dishwasher all at one time — I’ll unload the top rack, wait for a bit, then go back for the bottom rack. I do laundry throughout the week, rather that just on the weekend. I try and clean off the kitchen table every night. I should note that this one doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I’m too ambitious for my own good.

3. Calculate in recovery time. If you have to do something that you know will be difficult for your system, schedule in rest time. It’s like coming back from a vacation on Saturday so that you have Sunday to unpack and unwind before starting the week. For some people, this may only be necessary if you decide to run a marathon or Black Friday shop. For me, this happens every weekend. I work full time, and it is extremely difficult. By the end of the week, I have little to no energy. I purposely don’t schedule a lot on my weekends so I can rest.

4. Understand the difference between “your” and “you’re.” This one isn’t related to chronic illness, but is just solid life advice. Even if you don’t care that much about grammar, do it for your past English teachers. Bad grammar is worse than Voldemort, Sauron and President Snow combined.

5. Pick your battles. It’s important to pick your battles with other people, but it’s also important to pick your battles with yourself. You will never be a perfect human being or a perfect patient. Just accept it now and save yourself some major mental anguish. It would be great (and my dietician would love it) if I had the time and energy to puree my own food from organic fresh produce everyday, but buying baby food pouches is so much more convenient. Honestly, blended carrot is going to taste just as horrible regardless of where I get it. Buying pre-diced frozen strawberries and bananas is way faster than doing all that work myself. It’s also significantly less likely to result in major blood loss from a small knife wound that then requires superglue to clot. A major human-being internal battle I struggled with for years was about wearing yoga pants or yoga leggings in public. I am not a fan of people wearing pants you can see through. I should not know what color your underwear is. I was terrified that I would be judged for wearing yoga leggings (which are not see through, FYI) because they look like other leggings. Let’s face it, though, there are days when real pants are not going to happen. I wouldn’t wear yoga pants to work, but it’s OK to wear them to the South Lansing Meijer.

6. Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparing your relationship to other relationships is never a good idea, because you never know all the details of the other situation. Same thing goes for illness and self-management. You be you, and don’t worry about how others are handling their illness. Only you know what is right for you. Some people take the time to really put themselves together every day. It’s great that you took the time to put on makeup this morning. I didn’t. I have a tube of mascara, but I’m pretty sure it expired back when Pluto was still a planet. My focus in the morning is getting enough caffeine in me that I’m coherent by the time I get to work. It’s also not healthy to compare your pain/fatigue/other symptom to others unless you are relating or sharing advice. There is not a contest to see who has the worst pain. That sounds like something out of the Hunger Games. Pain sucks. My pain sucks, and I’m sure yours does as well.

7. Ask for help if you need it. It’s OK to ask for help. It really is. Most people actually do want to help, they just don’t know how. Even if it’s just communicating with family or friends about what you can or can’t do. When my significant other is out of town and I need help grocery shopping, I call my friend Stu. He is fantastic and totally has conversations with strangers about the fake baby we don’t actually have while I’m buying baby food for myself. It truly never gets old. He also knows that it goes without saying that he’ll be doing all the bag unloading when we get home.

In short, don’t let your illness control your life. Instead, structure and adapt your life to accommodate your needs and stay ahead of the illness. Also, use good grammar.

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Originally published: June 17, 2016
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