I’m a planner. Always have been. Always will be. But, as my grandmother always used to tell me, “Tell God you have a plan, and he’ll laugh at you.” That seems to be the case all too often for those of us in the chronic illness community. If you’re like me, each flare up and hospitalization has occurred completely out of the blue. I’ve been blindsided each and every time. I’ve worked a full day, trained for a half marathon, taken a road trip…you name it…and BAM…hello, bowel obstruction or abscess.
So, how can we go about our lives as normally as possible with the ever-looming dread of the next setback and flare? It’s easier said than done, but it is possible. I’ve battled Crohn’s disease for nearly 13 years, this perspective and knowledge took time for me to gain. When I was first diagnosed, flexibility and patience weren’t in my vocabulary. But, like all things in life, time helps us heal and time teaches.
Here are five helpful tips for finding flexibility while taking on your illness:
- Do your best to live in the now. Rather than focusing on the past hiccups in your journey, live in the moment. Feeling well? Capitalize on this. Go outside, meet up with friends or family, get some exercise. It’s these fleeting moments of invincibility that provide us with a chance to live like the rest of society. It may seem simple, but recognize these moments, verbalize them with loved ones. Celebrate the small joys, that are a big deal.
- Stop beating yourself up over what could happen. Many people in the chronic illness community talk about how common post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is. We’ve all faced some challenging, debilitating moments that have shook us to our core. Of course we don’t want that to happen again. Don’t place blame on yourself. Instead, give yourself credit for all you do on a daily basis to manage your disease—whether it’s watching your diet, taking medication or making an effort to practice self-care.
- Put your health first, don’t push yourself to the brink. Nobody likes to cancel plans or be a no-show at big events and social gatherings, especially when you’re actually looking forward to them. But, by putting other people’s needs before your own and worrying about what people might say or think of you—you’re only putting yourself in harm’s way. Be mindful of how friends and family members react when your disease is symptomatic. Are they supportive and understanding, or do they make you feel bad for bowing out? When you’re too tired, in pain or struggling, that’s a message from your body telling you to slow down. Please listen.
- Roll with the punches of treatment. Trying to wrangle a chronic illness into control is exhausting. It’s constantly a chess game. When you no longer respond well to your biologic, when you’re put on a new medication, when you’re told to try eliminating sugar, dairy, gluten or all the above…try to give everything a shot and a chance. Think about the risk vs. the reward. It’s emotionally draining when nothing seems to be working or helping to ease your pain, but, staying positive and open helps us all physically, emotionally and mentally. Keep an open mind with your healthcare providers and have two-way communication. Educate yourself, learn about the clinical trials and treatment options out there—be your own best advocate. Connect with others who are living your same reality. Trust in other peoples’ journeys, but recognize your journey is unique and so is everyone else. Each person’s IBD presents differently.
- Be the first to admit when you need help. By telling someone you are struggling, hurting or worried, you are not showing weakness. You are not complaining. If you are going through a dark time and wonder how you’re ever going to overcome a current setback, lean on your support system without hesitation. Internalizing your pain will only make matters worse. You’re still brave and resilient, no matter what.