9 Ways To Cope With Chronic Illness

When you’re disabled or have a chronic illness, self care is absolutely necessary. While self care regarding mental illness is often regarded as something you do when you have the time, caring for chronic pain is an all-consuming responsibility. There’s almost never a moment when I’m not tracking my symptoms, taking or thinking about taking medicine, and calling or going to doctors. It feels like a full time job.

But even with all the stuff circling our brains about prescriptions and relapses and insurance, it can often be hard to remember the smaller things that make a big impact on how we feel (for example, getting hydrated and managing pain properly).

Unfortunately, being chronically ill costs money. As much as I wanted to create a list that involved $0 spent, many of us who have chronic pain disorders know that’s simply not the reality. Some of us, like myself, are even forced to pay for medical treatment out of pocket since insurance companies don’t acknowledge the existence of chronic Lyme and other diseases that need more intensive therapy.

So I’ve put together a non-exhaustive list of ways to take better care of yourself when you deal with chronic illness, referencing tips that have worked for me in my own life.

Treat Yourself To A Bath

When my muscles and joints are achey all over, I want nothing more than to soak in a bath of warm water. Fancier bath accessories, like Lush bath bombs and scented fizzy tabs, just don’t cut it for me as they often leave my very sensitive skin feeling irritated. Instead, I invest in a large carton of Epsom salts from CVS to help loosen my muscles in the tub. It’s so simple but it really does work! The salts always leave my skin tingling and make my pain subside almost entirely (at least for a little while). And if I’m feeling fancy, I sometimes buy scented Epsom salts in a smaller $5 bag (my favorite is lavender).

Take Advil or Tylenol

When all else fails and/or you’re on the go, there’s nothing wrong with taking painkillers such as Advil to make your day more tolerable. I have a habit of allowing my pain to prolong and avoid taking Advil for fear of being weak or taking too much. But there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be out of pain. As long as you’re following the directions on the bottle, managing your pain medically every day is necessary, rational and doesn’t diminish your strength of character. If anything, it makes you stronger and functional enough to face your day with significantly less pain.

Stay Hydrated

Between my low thirst and depressive episodes, it’s pretty hard for me to remember to drink water. But with the meds I’m on (which is particularly drying and strains my kidneys) and with the weak state I’m often in from my chronic pain, staying hydrated is necessary for me to feel good. It’s much easier to stay hydrated when carrying around a reminder — like a travel water bottle, a jar or an old plastic bottle you can fill and refill with water throughout the day. You can also set little reminders on your phone to drink water throughout the day.

Keep Your Body Moving

Lately, I love following along with yoga videos on YouTube, my favorite of which has been videos by Yoga With Adrienne. Though I often get discouraged and painful in these practices, I try to follow routines and 30 day challenges to keep myself motivated. Because once I stop moving, my body tends to hurt more.

Depending on your pain or disability, exercise can be endlessly tricky. As someone who has a very erratically-acting illness, I know what it feels like to wonder how to get moving when you’re whole body is paralyzed in pain and your limbs are immobile. Neck stretches have been helpful and doable for me during these periods, as well as guided and gentle movement of the limbs I couldn’t move myself with the help of my partner.

Massages also really help activate the muscles when there’s nothing else accessible to you. When I’m home alone, I often employ my dog and pet rat to lick my paralyzed and painful hands, which really helps restore circulation so I can slowly start using them again.

Get Your Sun In

If you’re mostly limited to your bed or your home, try to get at least 30 minutes a day of outdoor time. Feeling the sun on your skin for just a little bit can help combat depression and funky sleeping schedules. Plus, feeling the warmth of the sun’s rays beat down on you might put you in a better mood too!

Stop Forcing Yourself To Do Things Outside Of Your Capability

It’s easy to feel pressured to fit in with able-bodied folks you hang out with & feel insecure vocalizing certain needs that might conflict with plans or expectations. For example, you might not do well in the cold. You might not be able to walk a certain pace, and need breaks in between. You might need friends to hold things for you or help you read signs and operate machines.

I’ve personally had lots of limits in my body concerning how far I can walk and what I can hold due to my bad back. And in the past, I’ve forced myself to stay quiet and endure activities that left my back in shambles for days afterward.

Be kind to yourself and communicate your limits and needs to your friends. If it makes you more comfortable, you could even ask them about the disability accommodations that are available where you’ll be going and prep them on what you’d need. But most importantly, don’t feel guilty. Your friends do not think you’re a burden, as much as it might feel that way. You’re fun and worth hanging out with — you just have different needs than others that your friends would rather you communicate (at least that’s what my friends told me).

Build a Toolbox for Your Worst Symptom(s)

My worst symptom by far has been nausea and heartburn related to my stomach illnesses. In order to keep eating & maintain a normal weight, I have to tend to my belly fast. My toolkit consists of licorice tea, ginger kombucha, miso soup and glutamine powder when it’s really bad. You probably already know a ton of things that work for you and some of your worst symptoms. Make your life easier, and keep them all in a box together for the next time you have a flare (box decoration optional).

Invest in Heat Tech Clothing

If you’re anything like me, winter is the absolute worst on your muscles and joints. I’m perpetually shivering and aching when I’m in the cold and never really feel like I’m getting warm enough no matter how many layers I’m wearing. However, I recently discovered the power of Heat Tech and would highly recommend. From Uniqlo for pretty cheap, I’ve acquired socks, shirts and leggings to wear under my clothing that keep me significantly warmer and less sore. In fact, I haven’t shivered and ached once yet this winter thanks to these garments. I’d highly recommend them for any chronically ill person shopping for winter clothes who just can’t seem to keep their body warm and comfortable enough this season.

Take a Break

Even when you’re on vacation, away at school and living with roommates, or celebrating a holiday with family, you still deserve your down time to replenish and revive. Remind yourself to nap, watch TV or meditate when you’re tired. Even if you’ve got stuff to get done, there’s always an hour in the day for a little TLC. Especially for bodies like ours that burn out way more quickly than others, it’s important that we treat ourselves with care.

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