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4 Ways to Make a Chronic Illness Flare-Up More Bearable

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I write this to advise myself, though if it speaks to you – then making this public has been worth it.

I’ve been sick. The past three days I’ve rendered myself incapable of being in the light, serving others, and instead have been stuck laying or sitting comfortably, yet grumpily in a state of disease. In retrospect, this same ailment has affected me for quite some years, and so can be labelled chronic. I’ve seen doctors, I’ve tried this medication, that treatment…But very little has ever touched on the physical pain and symptoms I feel.

Sometimes I pick up the fight again and revisit doctors, regurgitate the same symptoms, the same concerns…And am met with new options, new windows, and possible doors. I try them out, and am met with a new doctor who diagnoses me with shrugs and throws me a new blood testing prescription.

Occasionally we find hope. “Test came back abnormal,” it always begins, and then quickly followed by, “But it’s really not a big deal.”

I often wonder, then why is it considered abnormal? Just to be told it’s nothing to be worried about? Whenever this happens I wonder…What if it is something to worry about? And why are we ignoring it?

I’ve posted videos of my symptoms to try and find answers. Every time that I am struck down and forced to rest, I record my feelings. Perhaps I can make a montage, and someone, somewhere will say, “Hey, that sounds and looks like me!”

I’m a student of energy healing (Reiki) and I try to do a session a week on myself, but sometimes my energy is so melted down by this that I don’t know where to turn. Exercise and stretching exacerbates symptoms, food is not nearly appetizing. My only solace tends to be water and pressing on my pain points…And it’s a temporary relief.

So what can help me? What brings me joy during these times of pain and worry?

1. Other people’s joy.

Admittedly, at first it can be annoying. I may resist any happiness because I’m so determined to be grumpy and miserable. Perhaps feeling grumpy and miserable will bring me closer to a cure? Perhaps my misery will finally be taken seriously, and I can find the care that I need. Honestly, this never works. You can be sick, but you don’t have to be miserable. I’ve also found that doctors take me more seriously when I am calm and collected. When I had to get an electromyography of the nerves in my leg (an extremely painful test where they insert a long needle directly into various muscles and then you have to flex the muscle as hard as possible), the neurologist seemed absolutely pained as he witnessed me initially being strong, until we got to the hamstring, where I needed to take a break because I almost passed out from the pain. Compared to when I was first sick, and very anxious about the cause, doctors chalked my symptoms up to being anxious.

A few ways to surround yourself with joy during chronic illness flare-ups:

1. Watch hilarious and cute videos.

2. Listen to friends or family members chat in the background, even if you have your eyes closed.

3. Listening to comforting music that is light, upbeat, and not too stimulating.

4. Pet a purring cat.

2. Reminders of my accomplishments.

They may be few, especially if I’ve been sick more often lately, but they exist. Being a friend to myself, and reminding myself of the good times really reminds me I do contribute and serve others. Even making this blog post makes me feel better. I get a double back pat because I’m turning a typically negative looking situation into a positive. Perhaps making this blog post helps others – wouldn’t that be awesome? And yeah, in the past my videos have helped people. Even if a few people only watched it, at least I touched their lives.

A few ways to remind yourself of your accomplishments:

1.  Look through Facebook photos of yourself, and watch yourself light up at parties you got to attend, friends you got to hug, and pets who instantly fell in love with you.

2. Have an old journal? Read it. See what you were up to and compare to where you are now. What have you learned, how have you grown? And don’t use this exercise to beat yourself up. You are constantly learning and growing – that’s a beautiful aspect of life. Learning from the past and being motivated by it is a great way to keep you ready for tomorrow.

3. Text a friend or two and be real. Tell them you’re feeling sick and trying to boost your mood. Do they recall a good memory that can help lift your spirit? Having the support of others will immensely perk you up, and you now have a gem of a memory to pull out of your pocket in times of need.

4. Pick a favorite hobby and immerse yourself in the memories. Even if you can no longer participate in your favorite hobbies, reliving the past will help you revisit more comfortable times. And again, don’t beat yourself up. You lived, you loved, you conquered, and you deserved every second of that happiness. Events change, and things happen beyond your control. Even if it was in your control, it happened…And the only way forward is by forgiving yourself, and getting yourself back to a healthy mindset. You may not be able to get physically healthy again, but you can stay mentally fit.

3. Doing stuff you can do.

It may not be a lot, but let’s give yourself a round of applause for the things you can do, even in the face of adversity.

A few tiny accomplishments and joy-makers to try:

1. Lifting the remote control and putting on a feel-good movie. (You did it!!)

2. Lifting a piece of popcorn and placing it in your mouth. (Accomplished!)

3. Calling your fur baby’s name and getting their attention for a moment. (Connection!)

4. Breathing evenly and with good intention. (You’re officially a meditator! Brag about it when you feel better.)

4. Concocting a brighter tomorrow…or the day after that.

The best way to feel better now is to know that you’re not likely going to die today. Allow me to quote Gandalf for a second who gave sagely advise to poor, concerned Frodo:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

So do we want to sit here and wallow in our symptoms, worry about what’s causing them (if we don’t know), or beat ourselves up for not avoiding the flare-up somehow? No. Most of us don’t want to! Most of us want to figure out how to live the fullest life possible. I take solace in thinking of tomorrow and how I want to live a better life. I love to set goals and dream. And how about creating a mental (or physical, if you have the strength) visual board of all your dreams? Go on, do it – no one can stop you but yourself.

Just in case you are feeling hopeless, know I love you and am here for you. If you need to vent, open up, or cry – I’m pretty good at doing that myself, so I got pretty good at listening and emphasizing.

We got this. Even if it doesn’t seem like it right now – we do.

Brighter days are ahead, even if it’s only something we can create by having a sunnier disposition. All is not lost.

Getty Image by chaoss

This story originally appeared on Susie Hosterman.

Originally published: March 3, 2018
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