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How I Approach Self-Care as Someone With a Chronic Illness

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Before I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, whenever I saw articles telling me how to take care of myself and to practice self-care, I would roll my eyes and move on without reading the advice. Since my diagnosis, I’ve been more open to understanding how I can make my life easier and more enjoyable, but I don’t want to hear about airy-fairy ideas – I want practical ways I can take better care of myself.

When you have a chronic illness, it can be difficult to see the positive sides of life. In the middle of a flare, being battered by chronic pain and fatigue, it’s hard to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. When you can’t even stand for long enough to cook your favorite meal, thinking about getting out and doing something you enjoy can be quite unrealistic.

In terms of treatment, a multi-pronged attack can be the best way to target fibromyalgia and make it somewhat bearable.


Over the past 12 months, I have been feeling better in myself – less pain, less fatigue – but a flare can strike at any time, and if you’re feeling stressed, it can rear its ugly head to make your life even harder. At times like this, I turn to self-care.

Taking pleasure in the little things is the key to practicing self-care. It’s a state of mind, rather than a short-term goal. Just switching off for five minutes and focusing on your breathing can work wonders for your state of mind.

Something happened to me recently that I’m not quite ready to talk about yet, but it has affected me in so many ways. I can’t sleep properly – despite the amitriptyline, the medication I’m on for fibromyalgia – and my appetite is non-existent. I’m no longer interested in doing anything. And, of course, the stress has caused the fibromyalgia to flare up, causing me pain and extra fatigue (as if I wasn’t already tired enough).

To get through this time, I’m trying to focus on the little things.

Instead of staring blankly at my phone during my lunch break, I read a book or listen to an audiobook. Since I blog about books (amongst other things), reading is one of my favorite things to do, but I’ve been finding it difficult to concentrate at times. Putting my phone away and getting a book out is a deliberate act, as if I’m trying to remind myself I do love reading. I always feel better afterwards.

I’ve been watching a lot of great TV recently – “Game of Thrones,” “Poldark,” “Nashville” – but during this flare, I haven’t been interested in watching anything. It’s easy to think, what’s the point, but the point is you have to take care of yourself, even if it means carving out an hour of your evening to watch your favorite show. It’s such a simple thing, but it means, for that hour, your mind is elsewhere, with the fictional characters on the screen.

My home is a great comfort to me.

Hygge is a state of mind, not just a fashion statement, and it complements self-care wonderfully. My house is full of books and art and games, photographs and snuggly throws and cats. It’s a safe haven. I bought a diffuser, often light candles and draw the curtains against the darkening evenings. We recently bought the Philips Hue light bulbs that connect with Alexa, and often pick a scene with soft colors for the living room – light pinks, cool blues, warm reds. When you’re curled up on the sofa in pain – mentally or physically, or both – it can be hard to care about anything, but I find that setting the scene can really lift my mood. I always try to sit down with a cup of tea before heading to bed, and spend some time reading, or chatting to my partner, or playing with the cats.

Sometimes, you need to get out of your head, but other times, you need to get into it. I don’t have trouble falling asleep, but I have been waking up in the early hours of the morning. Instead of getting frustrated and upset, I try to focus on my breathing, slowing it down, and clearing my mind. I find it helps me get back to sleep easier, and I stay asleep until my alarm goes off. Taking five minutes to just breathe can make a huge difference.

If you, like me, work full-time, your mind can be full of things to do – meetings, paperwork, solving problems – so it can be hard to find time in your day to turn inwards and focus on yourself. Getting up, taking a short walk (outside, weather permitting!), and enjoying the time away from my desk can prepare me for going back, facing it all again with a fresh mind. If something in particular is bugging me, I take it out with me and turn it over in my mind during my walk. A lot of the time, I come up with a solution, or, at the very least, a better way to approach it.

We love cooking in our house. Fibromyalgia can make it difficult to cook fresh food – after a long day of work, my body is often too tired to chop vegetables and stand in the kitchen. Thankfully, I have a partner who loves cooking too, and will always share the load with me. Between us, we manage to cook fresh, delicious meals a few times a week, always making more to serve as leftovers for another meal. Making sure your diet is as healthy as it can be is another way you can take care of yourself. Just like drinking plenty of water, eating healthy food you love keeps your body happy, and your mind benefits too. I also make it an occasion to enjoy a treat. Rather than stealing opportunities to snack throughout the day, I like to sit down in the evening, or on the weekend, with a delicious cake, and savor it.

Self-care really is about the little things. Taking joy out of small moments in your day – whether that’s receiving a compliment from a colleague, making a rather good cup of tea, hugging your partner or spending an hour with your nose in a good book – can really make a positive impact. Fibromyalgia, and other chronic illnesses, can make an already busy or stressful life that much harder, so I try to focus on finding joy amongst the chaos, and knowing that for every dark period, there’s always a small candle to light your way.

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Thinkstock photo via vladans.

Originally published: September 7, 2017
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