by Sandeep Kaur Dhillon
Chronic pain is no joke. Neither is chronic fatigue. The frustration, disillusionment, and hopelessness that come along with these symptoms can make the most resilient of warriors waver. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis two years ago, during a time when I was supposed to be carving out the path to a future that was bright, shiny, and beautiful. And it was a gradual, sluggish, exhausting journey to falling flat on my face. It took me a long time, and a lot of mistakes, to stock my metaphorical toolbox so that I could build a happy, productive life. Now I am going to share my tools with you. I won’t be another person telling you to “totally give yoga a shot” or “try going gluten-free!” The tips that follow transformed my life. Whether you are a chronic pain veteran or new to the club, whether you are further down the path of life, or a novice like me, I hope you can walk away with something to think about.
1. Don’t resist your condition. By embracing it and allowing it into your truest reality, you can open yourself to dealing with it properly.
2. Surround yourself with positive people. Life is hard enough. You don’t need people around you who make it harder. This includes toxic friendships, clingy relationships, or even acquaintances who complain about silly things like too much school reading. Every ounce of energy counts. You want to make every drop positive.
3. Be kind to yourself and listen to your body. Easier said than done. As a 20-something who’s recently moved to the most spectacular city in the world, it’s a pain in the butt to stay in on a Friday night when you know all of your peers are out partying. It sucks. But the pay off of being able to go for a morning jog or see a funny movie is better than the days you’ll spend recovering from your late night out. Pick your outings wisely. Drinking margaritas and laughing at a festive restaurant? Yes. Going to a house party and getting smashed? No.
4. Eat properly. Avoid dieting extremes, but don’t be afraid to play with your diet. Phase out foods that make you feel less than how you want to feel. Keep a food log to target what makes your symptoms worse.
5. Absolutely incorporate physical activity into your life. YOU MUST EXERCISE. Even on days when I can’t straighten out my legs without feeling like someone is stabbing my knees, I stretch. Your joints need it. Whether it’s gentle yoga, swimming, walking, or even taking a warm shower and stretching after, commit to just 10 minutes a day.
6. Accept help. The smallest of things can drain your energy stores. Whether it’s finding someone to help you bring in your groceries or asking a classmate to lend you notes so you can use your energy to actually listen to your professor in class instead of writing down everything he says, be open to receiving and asking for help.
7. Do things that make you genuinely happy. Every day, find something to smile about. Even if you have to go online and look up ridiculous jokes or silly memes.
8. Honor your emotions. Allow yourself to feel sad when your symptoms flare, but don’t wallow. Accept how you feel, process your emotions, and then make space for something more positive, like calling a friend.
9. Begin every morning with a game plan, but be flexible. The smallest things can zap your energy in a heartbeat—and you’ll need to re-evaluate your day
10. Consider taking a break from social media; doing that has made me so much happier. I’m no longer sad or depressed seeing other people my age do things I can’t do. You’ll also find that by removing yourself temporarily (or, like me, permanently) from things like Facebook will nurture your true friendships. And those friends are the ones you’re going to want to talk to, and who will really be there, when the next flare-up strikes.
Your life can be sweet and wonderful if you love your body and take care of it well. Whatever your illness, you simply have different hurdles to jump over than people who don’t suffer from your symptoms. It’s all in the baby steps. It took me almost 2 years to stabilize enough to move across the country, away from my family. And that was with the support of everyone around me. If you don’t have that kind of support, understand that it might take longer. Be patient. The stronger your foundation, the taller you’ll stand when the next storm strikes.