A peek behind the blog today, right where I am, living and learning from this journey with inflammatory bowel disease, BRCA genetic mutation, and other surprising gifts of a lifetime. 7 Little Life Hacks for Coping With Chronic Illness are reflections aimed to encourage and support those living with illness or those who love someone who is.
7 Little Life Hacks for Coping With Chronic Illness
I’m calling them little, but these life hacks can pack a big punch. The photos are glimpses straight from my life in the last couple of weeks where I find myself on the path to healing.
I have lived with Crohn’s disease since my diagnosis in 1984 and recently enjoyed a lengthy remission from 2012 to 2018. The past year was a stress-filled struggle indeed. We hoped the removal of my gallbladder in September would end my attacks and digestion issues I have with fat, but it is possible my condition requires more time to heal.
1. Gamechanging Gratitude Shift
Some days, just the idea of taking a shower can be overwhelming. If you are living with chronic illness, pain, disease, or side effects from medical treatment, then you get it. You may have limited energy for daily chores and activities healthy folks don’t give a second thought. For example, I do all the shopping for our family, and on a bad day, the thought of getting ready, venturing out into public, and even being present to all that food at the market can trigger nausea and distress.
While I may only have limited control with physical symptoms, there is a lot more wiggle room for my mindset. When my mind changes, the landscape of living with my illness follows suit.
One small pivot. What a difference it makes when my thinking shifts from “I HAVE to go grocery shopping” to “I GET to go grocery shopping!” How can such a small shift in changing “I have to” to “I GET to” be so utterly powerful?
To move from living in scarcity to the awareness that I am living in abundance is a significant life-giving pivot! Embracing ‘life is a gift’ rather than ‘life is hard’ opens my heart to become receptive to new sources of light.
Gratitude unlocks all sorts of mysterious wonder and extra reserves of strength.
And gratitude bestows new eyes to see blessings and abilities–however limited and small they may be.
While I may feel as though I have been run over by a truck, just being able to use my arms and legs or drive a car to a store is a huge blessing!
2. Colorful Yet Drama-Free Meals
First, the colorful part. These days, my plate of food is a rainbow of color…a lovely sight to behold.
Since I have trouble digesting fats (even good fats), I’m eating more whole foods – more plants than ever. If I don’t stay centered in gratitude, I could easily spiral into ‘dammit, more rabbit food today’ rather than ‘what gorgeous gifts from the ground!’
A diet with variety and rich in fruits and vegetables is healthy for all of us, no matter what illness with which we live or strive to prevent. In my case, a colorful plate isn’t about self-discipline or making smart dietary choices as much as SURVIVAL, minimizing pain, and avoiding malnourishment.
But what a bonus the food itself presents as festive, vibrant, and cheerful.
Second, the drama-free part. Even though my plate often looks like a party, there are deliberate changes to meal time I have implemented to better cope with my illness. I have set a new boundary wherein ONLY GOOD VIBES are welcome when it’s time to enjoy food.
There is no sound of TV news, no magazine nearby covering a tragedy, no conversation about bills or dramas big and small, no rage, and no negativity while I am chewing and swallowing on my way to healing.
It is rather remarkable that most of us are not mindful about habits that harm us. Little things like chewing to liquid, eating more slowly, and eating while relaxed aid in better digestion.
Better digestion can mean less pain and even improve the immune response. While better digestion is a matter of particular importance to me at the moment, everyone can benefit from implementing healthier habits.
3. Swallowing Frogs & Spiritual Practice
Oh the joy of getting it out of the way! Everything I do when I am ill is more exhausting, and it’s easy to dread the work and demands of daily life. So I try to swallow my frogs in the morning…meaning I tackle the most undesirable tasks early in the day to get them crossed off the list.
When I am weak, procrastination is a natural side effect because I can justify it to myself. But a sense of accomplishment and moving forward lifts my spirit and gives me wings. It feels so good to get the hard stuff done and then relax!
Spiritual practices in the morning set the tone for the day. There are so many beautiful possibilities for quieting the mind, opening the heart, and saying YES and HELLO LOVELY to Presence! I’ll be writing about a few of my favorites in a separate post, but centering prayer/meditation and reading daily devotions arriving in my inbox are how I start every new day.
4. Afternoon Walk
Walking is medicine for me. Even a climatically perfect sunny day fails to motivate me to get outdoors for a nature walk when I am struggling with discomfort and low energy.
So I must draw from a deeper well of healthy living waters and BE INTENTIONAL about getting out of my own way, swatting away negative self-talk, and CHOOSING wellness ways of being.
Breathing fresh air, improving my circulation, stretching my muscles…an afternoon walk of any length is a small step on that path toward healing that I long to be on.
5. Sleeping Beauty
Examine your feelings about sleep and laziness. There are seasons we simply need more sleep, and not because we’re lazy. I am married to someone who has never required as much sleep as me. Needing more sleep may be a consequence of having mono as a teenager. But if you’re like me, there are all these weird emotions and even guilt swirling around rest. I mean, more sleep means less wakeful time to produce, create, and adventure, right? Hahahaha.
It seems so silly when I actually type the words. Because sleep is a wonderful state of consciousness that serves our bodies, minds, and spirits so well. It’s a beautiful layer of life where we can simply BE in our most vulnerable and true form. Sleep is a healer; a regenerative part of life with chronic illness that we often take for granted.
6. Pain as a Path
This isn’t the part of the post where I convince you your chronic illness is a gift. And there’s zero chance I’ll shame anyone about prescriptions or pain relief. Managing the pain associated with chronic illness is a highly personal and complex matter. Since I have experienced my share of suffering, these reflections are subjective and meant to encourage.
Pain gets our attention. As a writer, I often become caught up in creative work (which frequently keeps me centered in my head) and lose all track of time. That focus is great for meeting deadlines, but unhealthy when it entails: skipped meals, decreased physical activity, and neglected self-care.
The discomfort of moving through life with chronic illness can be a powerful teacher indeed. Pain helps us pay closer attention to physical needs and signals that the body is trying to heal.
When I choose to unhook from the sense that pain is an enemy to be feared or a punishing distraction, I can feel less overwhelmed when it arrives. It’s going to pass…this will pass! Important words which help many of us move through painful chapters as we heal.
7. Relentless Self-Kindness
Respond to your illness with the loving kindness you would lavish on a beloved friend who is ill. Putting this into practice is so much more challenging than stringing together the words. Only you truly know how hard it is to get through days with poor health, weakness, and low mood. So be your best friend. Be gentle and kind with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for being imperfectly human and fleshy.
Stop cursing the body in the mirror. When you gaze into the mirror, and dark circles, pale dehydrated skin, or tired eyes meet you there, cast blessing and love toward them. Look closer. See the vibrant soul shimmering underneath and thank that soul for its gorgeous perfection and enduring wholeness despite its physical container’s healing journey.
Are you swollen from inflammation or overweight at the moment? Look tenderly upon your body as you would a beloved child and thank it for serving you so well.
Are you small and underweight? See that you are already enough and send your smallness loving light to support its journey back to health.
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Peace to you right where you are.
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