I am feeling a little bit better today, more so because I have a game plan than my body condition is improving. Thus is what life is like living with chronic illnesses; the body rarely changes for the better, but outside circumstances can make you “feel” better.
I want to talk a little about the things I use, rely on, or do for coping through the really hard days/weeks. I used to use comfort as the one thing I went to when my body was screaming at me. But with having significant and un-diagnosed food intolerances that always made food really unsatisfactory. Besides, it usually made me feel worse, but I didn’t want to admit that. I’ve already talked about a few clothing choices for when I’m having flare ups, so this post is going to deal with some of the other coping mechanisms I use.
- Yoga –I have been mostly consistently practicing yoga for roughly 6 years now. This is most definitely NOT a one size fits all practice for those with chronic illnesses. When I was diagnosed with Fibro 9 1/2 years ago, I blindly accepted my fate of always being in pain and never having any energy. I never did any research about what options I may have for *MANAGING* (<– that’s a key word there…more on that later) my pain and energy levels. When I started my yoga practice, I was amazed that within a week of doing yoga almost every day, I had gained a big increase in flexibility and my back didn’t hurt as much. It wasn’t until about 4 years ago during my first pregnancy that I really started consistently practicing yoga. I will however be the first to admit that on bad flare up days/weeks, I do not pull out my yoga mat and practice. When everything is flaring up, like things have been the past two weeks, my yoga practice is one of the first things to go. So please don’t take this as me saying you HAVE to do yoga. This is merely something I’ve used to manage my day to day pain and energy levels. I can do another post later on about what specific poses I’ve found helpful and why. But for now, I’ll just say I do yoga roughly 3x a week, and every yoga session includes some bit of core work.
- Vitamins/Supplements –I kind of poo-pooed vitamins or supplements all of my childhood and early teens. I remember trying to take vitamin D and magnesium at one point, but I must not have been taking the right amount because I felt worse than before I had started taking the vitamins. I started taking a good prenatal vitamin 6 years ago and honestly even though I’m done having kids, I’m still take the exact same vitamin. Only, I’ve added a ton of other supplements now. I’ve noticed that most people who struggle with chronic illnesses have some sort of vitamin deficiency or multiple deficiencies. When the body is fighting constant inflammation then the cortisol levels are almost constantly raised. When this happens, the adrenal glands get drained and don’t do what they’re supposed to.**BIG NOTE** Have your doctor test for deficiencies. There are certain vitamins that those with hypothyroidism seem to be lacking, but not everyone’s body works the same way. So if you want to add vitamins and supplements into your daily routine, start with a multi-vitamin (the natural the better) and then work with your doctor to figure out what other supplements may be helpful for you.
- Revamping My Diet –My first sign that something was wrong with how my body reacted to food was suddenly being hit with intense non-stop nausea for more than a month when I was about 14. Shortly after that I tried to eat a yogurt and spent the next hour huddled in the bathroom feeling like my entire gut was being ripped to shredded. When we got married, my hubby and I were a penny-pinching nanny and college student and we got the best food we could afford and I know that didn’t help my gut at all. But that was all we could do! and I don’t regret that time at all. Three years ago when I found out about my gallbladder rapidly deteriorating, my primary care told me to go gluten free; GF and as anti-inflammatory I could manage. I lost 10 pounds within the first week of eating strictly GF. I firmly believe all of that weight was all inflammation. Even after two years of eating GF, I still wasn’t feeling good, food was still an issue, and leading up to my surgery three months ago, almost every single thing I ate was making me sick (i.e. running to the bathroom with painful diarrhea after every meal). So in March I decided to cut out all grains and switch to a mostly Ketogenic diet. This was out of desperation due to how everything I ate made me sick and food was 100% the enemy at that point. I also switched because I found a good bit of studies and research papers talking about how Keto can help with IBS. Three months of keto has made a huge difference and I am starting to actually like food again, which is kind of huge. Because I’ve done so much work with managing what I’m eating and being strict about what I eat, my gut/stomach aren’t usually contributing to the bad flare up days. Even still, on those bad days, I will get even more strict with what I eat, simply meaning, I basically eliminate anything that could possibly contribute to the pain.So if you have chronic inflammation from your chronic illnesses, then consider looking into what you’re eating and maybe even try an elimination diet (removing foods, then slowly adding things back in to see if you react). I was never a huge supporter of diet changes due to food intolerances…that is until I realized how many things made me sick and I got the point where I just wanted a break from everything making me sick.
- The Comfort Things –Ahhh, comfort. Although, those of you who deal with daily pain know that comfort with chronic illnesses is often hard to come by. My list of the things I turn to for comfort isn’t very long, and it changes. Right now, I have two pairs of shorts that leave minimal pressure on my abdomen and several t-shirt dresses that I’ve been pulling out more often now. Comfort also looks like having cold water in my water bottle that I constantly have with me, and curling up in front of the couch (yes, not on the couch) and binge watching a favorite show while the boys nap or have quiet times. Comfort looks like the fuzzy blanket I sleep with bunched up in front of me in bed. That fuzzy blanket has been a constant companion for nigh on 7 years now. My body physically sighs with relief whenever I curl up with that blanket. Let me stop right here though and say something I think is really important; there is NO SHAME in binge watching tv shows or movies because you can barely function. There is no shame and no guilt for barely being able to get a meal made because your energy levels are so low you didn’t even have enough spoons to get out of the shower this morning. There is no shame or guilt allowed for when you are so sick and so uncomfortable that bed is the only place that is only just tolerable. When it comes to chronic illnesses of ANY KIND, it is extremely important to create space and give grace to yourself to allow your body to rest. This means surrounding yourself with the things that bring you any kind of comfort that means you can rest or at least try to rest. I promise I’ll get to a spoon’s theory post sometime soon-ish, but for now, those with chronic illnesses, you know what it means to have to count spoons. Anything comfort means not using more than 1/2-1 spoon.
- Distractions –Just after I had my first (who btw is turning 4 years old today!!!!) I started dealing with significant nursing aversion. I mean huge rushes of nausea and anxiety whenever I sat down to nurse him. The ONLY thing that helped at all with that was immediately pulling out my phone and scrolling through Pinterest. There’s a reason I have about 11.5K pins. On really bad pain days, almost nothing can be a distraction because high pain = severe nausea for me and that usually turns into a migraine. But Pinterest, YouTube, Facebook, games on your smart phone, are all legit distractions. I have felt guilty in the past with spending so much time on my phone, but some days, that’s all I can do between feeding my munchkins their meals, making sure they’re happy and safe and then curling up in a corner to wait for a headache to past.
- BONUS! Research – Research is overwhelming. Especially when you just have no idea what to research. I use and have used research in the past to help me understand something I’m dealing with. Whether it be the right types of supplements recommended for my diagnoses, or understanding the right kind of questions to ask my doctors when trying to get them to take me seriously. This is one of the reasons I like Pinterest so much; researching on Pinterest adds an extra layer of focus to the research.
These are just a few of the ways I work through bad days/weeks. And honestly, all of these go out the window if I’m having such a bad day or week and nothing seems to help or make me feel better. These are just the options I tend towards on the mild pain days.
What are some of the things that make you feel comfortable or are able to manage flare ups better?