Those who know me well know that this has been a roller coaster of a year for me. After caring for my mother until her passing after a long battle with cancer, I then moved thousands of miles across the country to a new home, a dream job, and a growing relationship. Life caught up with me, however, and sent me spiraling into the worst flare-up of chronic illness that I have experienced in years.
It was quite a low blow for someone who makes a living helping others care for their own health, but I was determined to find the meaning in it all – the silver lining, if you will – as long as it didn’t kill me first! I’d like to think it made me stronger, so here are some of the things I plan to implement again in the future.
- Get Back to Basics
The nature of my career means that I put forth a lot of effort to stay on top of the latest advice in nutrition, health, and wellness, but sometimes simplicity is best. When we’re stuck in the hospital or dealing with low energy, it’s important to stick to the foundation of an anti-inflammatory diet, adequate hydration, refreshing sleep, stress management, and gentle exercise. It takes self-control to care for ourselves responsibly, but the results are worth it.
- Communicate with Your Doctors
I’m also a firm believer that no one knows our bodies like we do, after all we are the ones who have lived with chronic illness for years. The best doctors bring to the table their years of clinical knowledge and experience, which can be a huge asset when it comes to directing our care. There are, however, situations when we may not see eye-to-eye with our doctors, as was true in my case. It takes great strength to speak up for ourselves in a spirit of mildness, not backing down from what we know in our guts to be correct, while at the same time demonstrating respect for their professional role.
- Remember a Higher Power
In today’s fast-paced medical environment, it can be easy to lose touch with a higher purpose. Trapped within the four gray walls of my hospital room, it was a challenge to connect to my spiritual side when grappling with terrifying anxiety about my physical state. Still, I found great comfort in reading faith-strengthening articles on my cell phone app, doing my best to engage in regular meditation and prayer, and allowing myself to be upbuilt by the visits of friends and family members.
- Socialize with Others
That last bit was very difficult for me at times when I felt miserably and all I wanted to do was pull the blanket over my head and hide until it was over. Making space for ourselves can be a healthy coping mechanism, but withdrawing too much can cause us to feel isolated and cut us off from the goodness of others. At my lowest, the interchange of encouragement that came from connecting with others through text messages and social media helped to sustain me.
- Don’t Blame Yourself
It is a frequent habit among those of us with chronic illnesses to obsessively analyze each symptom, wondering what we did to trigger it – which food was wrong, which activity was too much, or which product was toxic. I am very grateful for my husband’s reminders that I needed to show myself kindness and to be reasonable in my expectations. After all, our illnesses are not our fault and beating ourselves up every time we feel sick will only make matters worse.
- Take the Time to Heal
The realization that I was not to blame for making myself sick overnight was a frustrating one, because it also meant that I could not be responsible for healing myself overnight. The whole process was going to take a lot of patience. I am a doer in every sense of the word, but all I could do was wait, confined to the house day in and day out as I adhered to my self-prescribed routine to help my body systems heal and rebalance.
- Find the Calm Amidst the Chaos
My first signs of a worsening flare-up began nine months ago, before I was hospitalized twice and forced to quit my job, cancel vacations, and generally miss out on my life over the summer. At first I could be content with my circumstances, recognizing that this was just another pit stop on my journey to healing, but as the months dragged on, it became harder and harder to find that inner peace that I so desperately wanted. I had to visit some very dark corners of my psyche, wade through the muck of self-pity, and question some of my previously-held beliefs before I could arrive at a place of acceptance, but I’m glad I made it.
- Cultivate Mindfulness
I am convinced now that acceptance is the only real gateway to joy. As long as we keep fighting our present reality or making our happiness contingent on future circumstances, we will remain discontented and unsatisfied. Acceptance doesn’t have to mean resigning to or condoning things that are evil or unjust, but it means understanding that the only thing we have the power to change is ourselves and that we are doing the best we can with what we know at this present time. We can strive to grow and improve ourselves with the lessons we learn as we continue to gain experience, not comparing ourselves to others.
- Express Gratitude
Finally, healing my mind, body, and soul will be an ongoing process, but I continue to feel much better each day as the events of this past year fade into a distant memory. What I won’t allow myself to forget, however, is the love that was shown to me by those to whom I had very little to offer in return and the love that I continue to try to share with others in similar circumstances. The strongest healing powers have come from the ability to demonstrate empathy and forgiveness towards myself and others.
What is the greatest life lesson you have learned from your journey as a woman with chronic illness? Please share your response with us in the comments section below or e-mail me directly. I look forward to hearing from you!