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.
Wishing you strength and courage friends, right where you are. Read more about my health journey HERE and HERE.
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Peace to you right where you are.
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Thanks for letting us in to your world today – I was reminded to renew my mind and this scripture kept ringing true as I read this post -Philippians 4:8 KJV Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
I’ve recently come to a better understanding of the phrase – It came to Pass, I now see it as just that – whether it’s pain, heartbreak, financial difficulties etc… It came to not STAY but to PASS.
Thank you for your transparency .
Whatsoever things are lovely. Yes. How wonderful when scripture comes alive, breathing into us just what our spirits require to be purified. Thank you for this. Yes, it is all temporal and fading. We can choose to despair or embrace it in the now and let it have its way molding us into something more divinely beautiful, yes? Accepting that health is also as fragile as everything else is hard for many people. We sort of make health an idol, raising our goblets to toast to it all the time. Good health is a gift, but poor health can also be with the proper lens in place. My own suffering has tenderized me and allowed so much bitterness to fall away. How can I harden against something so powerful that appears to be rigged in my favor? I love that you mention these other sources of suffering – yes – we truly are all on the journey. xox
Thank so much, Michelle. Your words are lovely indeed and come often as inspiration and healer. I, too, suffer with immune disease, chronic inflammation, and pain. Your mind set of gratitude, self love etc are written in such a way as to let me know I’m not alone in this path. There is great comfort in that. Thank you for sharing so deeply with us your readers. It’s always so comforting to know we’re all in this journey called life together-“ no man is an island”. One day at a time….. each day a gift. Let us always be a gift to each other as well❤️💤
It helps so much to feel joined so I don’t ever take it lightly to connect with others on a similar path. We really are in it together. Your words are honey. What a world when we become gifts, given to each other. The thing is, I believe we already have that world and simply need new eyes to SEE each other this way. I certainly see the blessing of your comment as a sweet gift. xox
I appreciate you sharing this. It is a good reminder to me of my husband’s daily battle with diabetes. The battle never leaves him, and I want to do all I can to help him. It’s easy to forget WHAT a daily battle it is though, when it is not you. You are not alone in your health struggles! He has shared alot of these same thoughts with me that you share here. These tips are helpful to me as I try to minister to him. Would love it if you could share your lo-fat baked French toast and homemade gf pizza recipes! Always on the hunt for new, healthy ones! Praying for God’s grace, strength, and healing for you.
So happy to hear these thoughts help, Amy. There are surely many similarities to the diabetes journey, and I wish your husband well. I’ll try to get these recipes together in a low-fat themed post because I keep thinking that what I am learning about cutting fat could surely be helpful to others for weight management! Thank you so much for these kindnesses – wishing you peace. xox
You truly are an inspiration! So sorry to hear that you suffer from a chronic illness, but you seem to stay positive in spite of going through this. I am sure it is not easy.
Keep the wonderful and inspirational quotes coming…I enjoy reading them. Best, Kim
Without the presence of the Spirit in my life, it would be difficult to be hopeful so I am very grateful. Thanks so much for reading with a beautiful tender heart, Kim. xox
Peace right back to you, Michele. I’ve had fibromyalgia for 22 years and have found that kindness toward myself has been the most help. In addition, the better times are certainly appreciated like I never could have before fibro. It’s also taught me to understand and love those who are suffering pain from all types of “dis-ease”. Love this post!
What a blessing to hear about your journey with suffering and how it has birthed greater compassion in you. It is easy at times to become so weighed down and focused on the losses and what feels like death that we miss the freshness and new birth rising. We have to get quiet and still to become aware of the new being created. It has taken me quite a long time to learn self-kindness, and I’m still a student who keeps stumbling and failing the exams. Listening to each other and listening to the voice who calls me Beloved helps so much. Thanks for reading with tenderness. xox
This is a particularly beautiful post, Michelle, and speaks deeply to me. Several years ago I used to suffer from chronic IBS (although probably not Crohn’s) and could handle only soft foods such as yogurt and mashed peaches or bananas. Even now, an attack of nerves or panic brings on the same symptoms. Today, the situation is different, less painful, but just as crucial to maintain good health habits via whole foods and gluten free products.
However, what helps the most to heal me is attitude! Just as you describe seeking peaceful moments and beginning each day in prayer and meditation, I do, too, along with listening to classical music on NPR, mild exercise, reading and writing, naps. My diabetic hubby shares these activities with me, but his “retirement job” is model railroading while mine is writing blogs.
Thank you so much for sharing your journey with me — and your upcoming recipes!
I love reading your words, Jo. My husband’s passion is golf, and like you, blogging is my golf! I lived through a season of panic attacks a decade ago and hope to never experience it again. I have family and friends with IBS and feel so much compassion for sufferers. A lot of folks think IBS and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) are the same. Crohn’s is an inflammatory bowel disease which was found when I was initially hospitalized. Some folks equate Crohn’s with diarrhea, but in fact that hasn’t been an issue for me for years. One IBD was not enough for this girl. I also developed colitis in the 90’s!!! More is more? No! Hahahaha. Attitude…yes. I often call it putting on a new mind or putting on the mind of Christ, but we’re all pointing to the same thing, doncha think? Transcending the small self in wakeful sobriety and seeing, really seeing, that we are good, that there is nothing to fear, and that life is birthing something new for us though we’re resistant to change. I’ll try to get those recipes posted, friend. Thank you for sharing so honestly. xox
This is most probably one of the best posts of any blogger’s I have read. So inspiring and heartfelt! Thank you!
You just made my whole day. Thank you for that blessing – and now I want to reflect it back and say: what a giving, open, tender heart is yours. Peace to you.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful healthy practices with us! You have been through so much my friend and yet here you are each day thinking of others and sending encouragement. God has enlisted you to reach so many and bring His light!
You have certainly lived your share of suffering too, and it’s a common thread in our connection which maybe holds us close, friend. Your work is such a shining example of healing hands – hands in need of healing that are healed by BECOMING THE HEALING ITSELF. It’s what Christ did – he didn’t sit around waiting for people to come to him, he always went further and TOUCHED the wounds. I just love your beautiful hands of love, Holly. Thank you for blessing not just me daily, but all who stumble on this blog and receive a taste of peace. xox
Thank you, Michele. Your sage advice and helpful hacks can benefit all of us, whether we want to retain or regain or our health.
Thanks so much for reading, Carole and for the kindness.
Thanks for sharing. Your blog is always encouraging and inspirational. Sending you prayers in your journey to better health.
I appreciate that so much – thank you, Sheila. Peace to you.