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10 Ways to Find Your Fire Again With Chronic Illness

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I am a big believer in acknowledging the effects of chronic illness, but not letting it rule your life. This stems from my experiences as both a veteran and a rookie with chronic illness, having been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and hypothyroidism at 2 years old (in 1995), and then multiple sclerosis (MS) when I was 21 (in 2015). I am also a registered nurse by profession and a self-proclaimed chronic illness advocate.

I’m here to give you a list of unconventional things that can help you find parts of your soul again after a devastating diagnosis or flare-up of your illness. Here are 10 suggestions based on my own experience as well as my desire to help.

1. Ask for help.

Always ask for help when you need it. Ask a friend, a coworker, a spouse, a therapist, a family member. Ask someone who can be realistic with you, but be a positive support (mind you don’t get caught up in the “toxic positivity” movement). Find someone who can sit with you in the pain and just be there.

2. Let yourself feel the emotion — whatever it is.

If you feel anger, despair, hurt or  fear, do what you have to do to express these emotions! Cry, scream into a pillow, throw said pillow at the wall, write it down, tell someone, go and work it out. Get your emotion out into the open and deal with it. When I was diagnosed with MS, I found that throwing a pillow at the wall felt pretty good. But, by all means, do not stay there. That’s how depression gets worse. That’s how anxious thoughts surface. That’s how you get yourself in an emotional downward spiral. Face your emotion head on, acknowledge its presence, and do what you have to do.

3. Listen to your favorite encouraging song.

For me, music is a great way to express how you feel without saying anything. I’m not musical by any means, so I let others do that for me. Some songs I found helpful after my diagnosis are “Even If” by Mercy Me and “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again” by Danny Gokey. But, make the music encouraging. There are encouraging songs out there that acknowledge pain, but infuse it with hope. Listen to that.

4. Start a personal, honest journal.

Sometimes you don’t really know what you’re struggling with until you write it down. I’m a writer, and writing always helps me organize and put a voice to my thoughts. If you know what you feel, you can deal with it. It doesn’t have to be eloquent, but be honest with yourself. The journal is for you, for your thoughts. Get it down on paper.

5. Read others’ stories with similar conditions.

They are everywhere. They are in books, in blogs and trusted websites. Be careful about online forums — which are plentiful. Those forums can really feed into a victim mentality and reflect a complaining spirit. So, be careful what you’re filling your mind with. Ask yourself if you would benefit from what whatever you’re reading and go from there. But getting a feeling that you are not alone can be immensely helpful.

6. Go laugh at something.

What do you find funny? Maybe you go to a comedy show. Maybe you watch your favorite silly movie that you can quote word for word. That movie for me is the Disney movie “Hercules.” I can seriously quote that movie word for word! Take your mind off of things for a few hours. Even smiling at something scripted or make-believe can translate into your real life.

7. When you’re physically able, go do something productive.

This can be hard when you’re grieving over something, or you’re in pain. But force yourself to do it. Walk your dog, play with your dog (always productive in my opinion), run that errand, go to the gym, go for a walk, clean your house. This is to just get yourself out in the world. Don’t stay cooped up dealing with your own sadness or anger. Concentrate on something else, get some fresh air. It’s not a cure-all to be sure, and it’s OK to rest when you need it, but you still have to live your life. Baby steps! I remember how just playing with my dog for a few minutes distracted me and made me smile when I was struggling with my MS diagnosis (because she was so cute). It was such a simple thing, but it helped.

8. Figure out what tips/tricks you’ve learned about taking care of yourself and figure out how to share those things with others.

Maybe you want to start a blog. Maybe you want to start with an online forum and help others who are struggling. Maybe you want to be an Instagram influencer. Maybe you want to get started up with advocacy for whatever you struggle with. The bottom line is to do something positive with your struggles. Don’t keep it to yourself.

9. Be there for someone else going through something hard.

This is one of my favorite things to do because it helps you get in touch with your own feelings. Everyone has something hard going on, whether it be illness, divorce or even death. It can feel so isolating, after the initial aftermath of a chronic illness or a flare of a current one. But check in with your friends and your family. Be focused on them for a bit. It helps take your focus off your own struggle and can remind you that you’re not the  only one going through something. This is not to discount what you’re going through, but to help you find a balance. And, the fastest way to make yourself feel better is to do something for someone else. Best of all, you can probably empathize with a difficult situation. Wouldn’t you like it if  your friends/family would check in with you once in a while? Go be that person.

10.  Remind yourself, daily if necessary, about who you are, what you want out of life and what unique things you are capable of.

Heck, write these things on your mirror! What were/are your passions? How can you make those things happen? Don’t sell yourself short because you’re “sick.” (I hate that phrase.) Remind yourself what you want to accomplish in life. Your chronic issue may prevent you from doing some  things, but do not let it become an excuse to not try. You are capable. Don’t give your illness extra power over you and your life! Your chronic illness takes enough from you every day; don’t give it more power than it already has.

If you’re interested in learning more about my story, my book “Battleground: A Young Nurse’s Journey Through Chronic Illness” is available through various retailers. You are not alone, and there are ways to get your fire back!    

Getty image via fcscafeine.

Originally published: March 13, 2020
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