I am not going to lie, I am not the best at self care. In fact, I’m pretty bad at it. I’m a people pleaser by nature, I have always put others first and as part of my personality, I enjoy making others happy and being there, doing things for them. However, I have learnt and I am learning that often, as a chronically ill person this can be at a detriment to myself.
That’s a difficult inner battle to manage and one I’m yet to settle and be at peace with. However, I’m slowly learning that I must start to prioritise myself. Sadly, this came out of a necessity, rather than a choice. Simply because my body no longer allows it.
So, I guess, if you recognise yourself in my story, I urge you to listen to your body, better than I have listened to mine.
I’m not great at self care but I’m on a learning curve, perhaps one we can learn together. Here’s are some things I do to aid and care for myself in this chronic illness fight.
This is something I’m aware I need to do more of. Meditation is a great way of calming down the sympathetic nervous system.
As described here “The sympathetic nervous system’s primary process is to stimulate the body’s fight-flight-or-freeze response. The sympathetic nervous system is described as being antagonistic to the parasympathetic nervous system which stimulates the body to “feed and breed” and to (then) “rest-and-digest”. Read more here.
By using meditation we can calm this process and lessen the ‘tired but wired‘ feeling that many of us suffer from surviving on adrenaline when we don’t have energy due to fatigue. “Practitioners of meditation experience changes in gene expression that are the exact opposite of what occurs during the “flight or fight” stress response.” Read more here.
There are many apps available both free and paid; Headspace, Beditations, Calm and also many meditation videos available on Youtube. I find that meditation is very personal and you have to find voices that you enjoy listening to.
Yet another I need to improve on! Saying no is difficult isn’t it, let’s just start right there. If it wasn’t, we’d all be excellent at sitting down with a cuppa and letting the world put itself to rights. But hey, we humans have a habit of pushing ourselves into the ground don’t we? So why is it so important? Well, saying no means putting yourself and your needs first. That means listening to your body and prioritising its needs and boy, does it need that (and most likey, it will thank you for it). We’ve all heard the saying ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’? haven’t we…
Listen to your body
I’m not sure how loud my body has to scream at me before I learn to listen to it, anyone else the same? I think that’s down to a longing to live that comes from having life stripped away from you but where will it get me if I never truly listen to my body’s needs? Not far, even I know that. So I’m learning to listen to my body’s cries before they become screams, again. It’s a learning curve for sure.
Ok, no one likes to admit they need help. Whether we are eight or eighty, we want, strive for and often need our independence. This makes living with chronic illness and the limitations it can present incredibly difficult. Here’s the thing that I have learnt. In order to cope with our illness, it’s symptoms and all that it entails (medical appointments, household upkeep, shopping etc) we need help. We simply cannot face this alone. When we ask for help, when we accept help, our burden is lessened and we are more able to simply fight and that is surely hard enough.
Ahhh this old chestnut! Has anyone truly cracked pacing? Not me! Again, I blame the yearning to live! So don’t worry if you’re not a pacing expert, I’m not here to tell you to be perfect because I am anything from it. How about we try together? They say to find your baseline (no idea where mine is yet) and to then only do as much as is within your means. The aim, to lessen the crashes, to aim to get to the point where there are no crashes and with that, your body suffers less.
Well, I’m all for less suffering so…
Be kind to yourself
We’re good people for goodness sake! Really good people fighting an unfair and horrid fight! Let’s be kind to ourselves and remind us of that. We are doing our best, trying our best, on our worst days and on our best days, when we feel we have messed up (at self care 😉 ) and when we feel we’ve achieved: we are doing our best. End of.
Don’t beat yourself up
Hello, my name is Amy and I’m excellent at beating myself up about everything. I excel at it. However, I have decided this Self Care Week to try and make a change. This is a negative habit and is a disservice to myself. Yes, I am frustrated with my body and myself at every turn, I imagine you are too but truly what good does it do in berating ourselves for it? It certainly hasn’t done me any favours over the last 19 years. So, as in my above point, not beating yourself up is being kinder to yourself. Remind yourself how hard you are trying. We can be sad for our bodies and frustrated at their limitations without being cruel to ourselves. That is what I’m going to attempt to change. Will you join me? Let’s remember: It is not our fault we are ill.
Do the diet that’s right for you & don’t beat yourself up if you can’t
Eat healthily is paraded everywhere isn’t it? If you can eat a healthy balanced diet then that is fantastic and a very important part of self care. However, often when we are chronically ill this can be difficult. Whether this is because preparing food or shopping for food is difficult or impossible or perhaps because you cannot stomach or tolerate certain foods, the most important thing is to be kind to yourself for managing what you can and asking for help if it is needed. Doing this is as important as following a healthy diet in my eyes.
Eating afterall, is a necessity.
Rest when you can
Follow a routine that is right for you. Not someone else. Structure your activity and/or rest to your needs only and take advice from health care professionals that you trust.
Join the online community
What an incredible community we have online! Often, those with chronic illness become isolated and suffer lonliness simply because we are unable to join in with activities that no longer suit our needs. We can face the battle of our illness and symptoms alone and that can be scary. Joining the online community can be a very positive step for support and a sense of belonging and validation of your symptoms.
If you’d like to join my instagram community it’s @myillnessmythoughts You’ll find some awesome spoonies here!
They can be small or mighty but there is power in a positive thought. Now, I’m by no means telling you to ‘just be positive’ fear not, but a simple ‘I’m trying my best’ is a positive thing to tell yourself.
Find something that brings you joy
For some people this may be reading a book or watching a tv program, for others this is simply too much. If it is a book, make time to enjoy your book. If reading is something you can’t manage, take yourself away somewhere in your mind. Enjoy five minutes of deep breathing. Listen to an audiobook. Have a bath or a cup of tea but find something, no matter how small, that brings you joy.
What does self care look like to you? Because it is personal. So long as it’s right for you and it fits into your life, making a positive impact then that’s what counts.
It is ongoing, we have to remind ourselves to be kind to ourselves, to ask for help, to breathe and I mean really breathe. These aren’t a one off. We must prioritise ourselves so we can prioritise our health.
There are so many tips for self care out there but the most important ones are those that are adapted to you.
Even more important is to not berate yourself if you can’t manage them at times. The idea is that you try and that in doing so you are looking after yourself in a more caring way.
I certainly needed to write this post to remind myself to take better care of myself and I hope it’s a useful reminder to others too. Take this as a non-apologetic woman’s version of ‘need to do better at self care for my own sake‘ post! Hopefully, that’s a bit relatable.
So let’s take stock this Self Care Week and be a little more mindful of how we treat ourselves in life and in our chronic illness fight.
Learning to pace myself is key for me. I’m good at down time, but at the same time I’m a bit of a “doer.” My hypomania makes me want to work at a million miles a minute, so I have to remind myself that’s not always great and to slow down.
I can imagine that’s not always easy. Pacing is certainly one of the trickiest things to learn and indeed stick at, so I applaud anyone and everyone who’s on that path, wherever they are on it!
It’s way too easy to be hard on ourselves when things aren’t going the way we want. Thanks for the suggestions in this post.
it really is isn’t it? And it’s often those times when we need to be kinder to ourselves. You’re very welcome.
This is a brilliantly written article. I totally see myself in your writing. I’m utterly dreadful at pacing (despite writing about it and knowing how important it is). I get overexcited on “good” days and end up doing too much. Anyway thank you for writing this article.
Thank you, that means so much! I am exactly the same! And when I started writing this I thought it would feel wrong of me to not be honest about how bad I am myself at these things and how I recognise how much I have yet to learn. I’ve really glad you enjoyed it 🙂