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What I Keep in My Self-Care Toolbox for Chronic Pain Flares

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Flare-ups of chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia can be excruciatingly painful. During those times, I have a self-care toolbox that I’ve assembled to both comfort myself, and to make my life easier.

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The very first thing I keep in my self-care toolbox is a selection of my favorite books. My all time favorites are the “Harry Potter” series, the “Sword of Truth” series by Terry Goodkind, and if I’m looking for an easy yet entertaining read, I go for books by Nora Roberts, or her alter ego J.D. Robb. I find that reading helps me cope with the pain. My body still hurts, but my mind is taken to magical places and epic quests, which somehow makes the pain easier to bear.

As you may have gathered, I am a voracious reader, though I oftentimes find that it is too painful to hold a book. My personal favorite device is my iPad mini for reading. It is light weight and easy for me to hold, especially since I have nerve damage in one of my hands due to a bad fall years ago. It makes it much easier and more comfortable to partake in an activity that I love. It’s also easy to place in a stand (or against a pillow) and read hands-free, in nearly any position. The only thing that I have to do is use a finger to swipe to the next page. Though an iPad Mini is my preference, most devices nowadays have e-reader apps available, oftentimes at no cost. As an added bonus, many libraries lend out e-books online, so you can borrow your favorite books without having to leave the comfort of your home. The only drawback that I’ve found, is I can’t use it in the tub.

This leads me to – audiobooks. I absolutely adore audiobooks. When I’m in the bath, I simply fire up my audio book application and put on a book to listen to. As I don’t want the steam in the washroom to affect my device, I simply put it into a one gallon zip top freezer bag to protect it from the steam. I also find audiobooks very soothing to use at night. Unlike watching television, there is no light, thus maximizing my chances of actually falling asleep. So that the noise doesn’t bother my husband, I purchased a very inexpensive pair of bluetooth headphones. It’s so much nicer to listen to a favorite book while lying awake in bed with painsomnia, rather than staring at the ceiling, thinking about how much pain I’m in. Audiobook apps are available on a wide range of devices, and have plans to suit every budget. Audible has a 30 day free trial, where you get a free book – that you get to keep, even if you cancel. That takes the majority of the worry out of trying out audiobooks to see if you like them. Again, many libraries are starting to lend out audiobooks online, which is an awesome no cost option to listen to your favorite books.

Siri, Alexa, (or whatever “personal assistant” app that is available on your device) is invaluable for me, especially when I’m in a flare. I find that my fibro fog is at its worst during a flare, and I often forget things – even on my best days. It’s extremely easy for me to use the “Hey Siri” function on my phone to set reminders, add appointments into my calendar, or ask if I have appointments on a certain day – all without having to pick up my phone. I discovered that it’s particularly valuable when I can’t remember where I put my phone, because it works as long as its within voice range (pro tip: ask Siri to beat box for you and follow the sound to locate your phone). I can also send texts, and have messages read to me hands free, thus eliminating the need for extra movement when I’ve finally found a comfortable position.

Favorite comfort foods are also an essential for me. I gravitate towards foods that are easily prepared, such as my meatballs in red sauce, that can be prepared in a slow cooker from frozen. When I am feeling OK, I tend to make up enough food for two meals, and pop the ingredients for the extra meal in the freezer, so it can simply be placed in a slow cooker to thaw and heat.

I also find that the epitome of comfort food, soups, can be easily prepared in a slow cooker – especially since frozen veggies are available in every modern mega mart. Frozen veggies are convenient, relatively inexpensive, and depending on how far away you’re located from the place where the vegetables are grown, actually taste better than fresh due to sugars being turned to starch during long shipping times, and thus losing the sweetness that we typically associate with things like peas and corn. This issue is solved by buying frozen vegetables, as long as you buy a quality Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) brand, which are picked at the peak of ripeness and flash frozen. Most large national brands are IQF.

One of my favorite slow cooker soups is chicken tortellini. Simply put in some chicken breasts or boneless thighs cut into chunks (most meat departments will accommodate you, and cut your meat into chunks prior to purchasing), quality frozen veggies, and low sodium chicken broth into a slow cooker, and let it rip. Approximately 30 minutes prior to serving, toss in some fresh or thawed tortellini (or other noodle that you like) and season to taste. You can also place most slow cookers on the “warm” setting, to keep your meal hot until you’d like to eat. Soups can also be easily modified for vegetarians, or to accommodate a wide variety of nutritional restrictions or requirements.

If you feel like you just can’t cook, give yourself permission to order in whatever your favorite comfort foods are. This is all about self-care – and running yourself ragged trying to get a meal on the table doesn’t help matters.

Favorite movies and shows are also essential for me. I gravitate towards “Good Eats,” which is a very entertaining cooking show, the “Lord of The Rings” trilogy, “Harry Potter” movies, RuPaul’s “Drag Race,” and “Bones.” Netflix is my friend when I just want to be entertained, and not have to think. I personally find that stealing a couple of hours to binge watch a favorite show or movie with my heating pad relaxes my mind, which in turn, helps relax my muscles.

Above all, remember, self-care is critically important. Whether we work, are unable to work, have families of our own, live alone, have pets or friends, the loved ones in our lives deserve us at our best. If we care for ourselves when we are hurting, we are more capable of being the best versions of ourselves – and gosh darn it, we deserve it.

Getty Image by julief514

Originally published: March 10, 2018
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