Kelty Edraney

@keltyedraney | contributor
Just a young, chronically ill woman determined not to let her challenges get in the way of living a full, colorful life!
Kelty Edraney

5 Ways to Make the Most of Flare-Up Days With IBS

We all want to be happy, energetic and engaged people, to explore new places or revisit old ones, to be active and entertained. Mostly, we want not to be bored, or stagnant. But when our illnesses act up, we can be left flat on our backs. We may be unable to go to the mailbox, let alone outside exploring. So how can we minimize feelings of sadness, frustration  and fear of missing out? 1. Release the Guilt It’s all too common for the chronically ill to ruminate over our “bad” days, and disregard the need for rest and recovery. Even the most able-bodied, healthy individuals need rest, so when your pain comes a knocking, don’t answer the door with anger. If you begin an already challenging day by blaming yourself for that which is out of your hands, you ignore your mind/body’s cry to be nurtured. Flare-ups, though incredibly hard and limiting, have a message to share. 2. Don’t Skimp on Self-Care When you are too exhausted to stand, having violent back spasms or feel riddled with anxiety and fear, the last thing on your mind is using more energy you don’t have on something frivolous. However, the reality is counterintuitive – expending energy towards self-care becomes a necessity in these moments when we feel least capable of doing so. Bearing that in mind, we find our own special ways to show care towards ourselves. We drink the water. We take the medication. If we can stand, we take the shower. If we can’t, we give ourselves a mini-massage. 3. Find Activities You Can Handle One surefire way to escape feelings of boredom, or being trapped in the midst of a bad flare-up, is to identify the activities you enjoy that are still possible when you are not able to function normally. This can take the shape of many things: picking up that one novel you never quite managed to finish. Breaking out the gel pens and going to town on some scrap paper. Propping yourself up with pillows and writing a story, just for the sake of creating something. We can surprise ourselves with our ability to be creative, even at the points of our lowest lows. 4. Try and Stay Connected If there is one compounding factor I have observed that can make a bad flare-up worse, it’s loneliness. We can work ourselves up into a state of deep angst, pushed even further with thoughts of being alone. The chronically ill are frequently misunderstood, and we can feel further isolated when we are stranded in our beds, marooned on Flare-Up Island. If possible, invite a friend over that you are comfortable being unwell around. Call up a parent, or a sibling, and just catch up. If talking or being with others is not realistic, social media can be utilized in a positive way, allowing you to feel some sense of connectedness to those you care about. If you live with others, don’t be ashamed of your flare, but rather be open, and share it with them. Most people are more willing to keep us company than we realize. 5. Put It in Perspective At the end of the day, we will all have some very good days, and some very bad ones. When you begin to sense your thoughts spiraling in a negative direction, remind yourself that you have made it through every single flare-up you’ve faced so far, with perfect success. Flare-ups, while universally resented by those who must endure them, do not doom you to a day wasted. We must remember that each day, each challenging day, is precious.

Kelty Edraney

The Part of Chronic Illness That Nothing Could Have Prepared Me For

“I’ll see if I’m up to it.” “I’ll really try and see you this week.” “I hope I can make it to that concert!” “I don’t know how I’m going to do this.” If there is one aspect of chronic illness that nothing could have prepared me for, it is the gap between my expectations and my reality. The distance between what I want, and what my body can handle. When chronically ill, whether with physical, mental or emotional struggles, meeting the demands and standards of a “normal” life often feel just out of reach. This is not for lack of wanting, but rather a lack of ability – while others around us can climb mountains, on some mornings, rising from our beds and walking to the bathroom feels as insurmountable as scaling Everest. I watched as others my age worked nine hours a day, still having energy to go out for drinks after work, and felt my spirit being crushed by inadequacy. My version of a successful day is managing to last my entire five hour shift, and walking home without needing to stop and rest along the way. My unsuccessful days amount to little more than bed rest and medication. I would listen on, envious, as my healthy coworkers complained about their extended hours. I now long for the time when I was able to work normally. I miss the sense of purpose and social connection. On the rare occasion an extra activity is planned, I go in expecting to feel the consequences of my additional exertion for at least one day after. Sometimes, my flare-ups have no clear cause, rushing into my schedule as if invited. The physical symptoms come and go, and I have developed an ability to accept and relax into them. What has not quite settled, however, is the feeling of profound guilt, the fears that I am not enough – busy enough, strong enough, healthy enough, do enough. In our culture, it is far too easy for those of us who struggle with chronic illness to internalize the message that we are only as good, as valuable, as the work we are able to produce. If there is one thing that illness teaches us, however, it is that we are not machines. We are not built to produce, grind and push ourselves beyond human limits – our bodies and minds are fragile. Chronic illness can slow our lives to a halt, leaving little room for activities beyond the bare minimum. So how do we grapple with this reality – this new normal? We meet ourselves and our bodies wherever they are at. We search for the hidden gems buried deep within the caverns of our struggle. We resist the urge to compare ourselves and our abilities to those who are working with an entirely different set of tools than our own. And most importantly, we must hold our own unique challenges, our differences and our burdens, with an open heart. We must remember that, when we cannot get or do everything that we want, we sometimes find…we still can get what we need.