I sometimes I push myself. Too hard.
I do things beyond what my pain level will allow me.
I end up in more agony because I do things that I shouldn’t, or should just leave well alone. But I don’t listen, silly me.
To some extent, I think most people with chronic illnesses do this. For some it’s doing what is necessary and paying the price the day/s after; knowing it was worth it. It could be attending an event, being social, travelling or simply doing the household chores.
“Pushing through” was something I did alot when I first returned to work after my diagnosis. I was on the mindset that it was my mind over my body; and for the most part it worked well. It wasn’t until I had to change medications did I really appreciate that while my mind could and would be strong against my disease, my body was not. It was fighting an autoimmune condition and it did not play fair.
Fast forward to 2019 where I’ve undergone nine medication changes and three surgeries; I would like to think I am better at being able to ask for help or at least go slower.
My third surgery has really forced me to go slow.
While my Proctectomy has been a great success; I’m in need for daily check and dressing changes on a wound that I can not see. I can do alot for myself but not this. I have strict instructions to not sit for too long or in one place because it aggravates the healing of said wound.
All of this is hard, least of all because I have to slow the heck down and really crawl before I can walk. And walk before I can run.
I’ve learnt that particular lesson time and time again in the last three or four years, as I physically recover from admissions and surgeries. I’ve spent alot of my post op recovery as time alone, because unless there is holiday or it’s the weekend; my family, friends and partner are working. It is tough to by yourself for 90% of the day and it is tough to keep yourself motivated, positive and upbeat for weeks, if not months on end.
And for someone who needs to feel motivated by doing things; whilst simultaneously needing to rest and not do things; it’s been a hard and complicated road.
However, I have come away with some tips on how I do things for myself when I am unwell.
‘Unwell’ here can be anything; ranging from a bug, a cold, the flu; all the way to having a flare up, recovering from infections or surgery.
If you can, prepare ahead abit. Sometimes this is hard because admissions can come without warning but I’ve gotten a fifth sense about my body these days, so can prepare more than I did. If I am feeling particular unwell, I pack a small emergency hospital bag – ostomy supplies, spare clothes, a book, skin products, a charger – to just be ready. Other preparedness can be refilling my prescriptions on time, getting some meals prepped and sat in the fridge of freezer for when I’m not well enough to stand up and cook. This works for alot of times when working getting too busy too.
Trust Your Circle for Help
This has been a big one for me the last two years as I was living away from home alone and now with my partner. Asking for help has been a game changer. Asking friends – new colleagues – and even my employer for help was a huge leap forward for me.
Beyond that, asking for advice without feeling like you’re being a burden is hard but grab the bull by the horns and ask. If you don’t ask, you won’t get. And in that respect, if you don’t share your low times (if you want to!) it can be hard for others to appreciate your struggle.
Building your circle is a topic for another day.
Take It Slow
No point in doing too much and ruining your hard work of recovering; taking it slow and at your own pace is really important. If I let go of deadlines and needing to be somewhere at a certain time, I can just relax. On top of that, being free to do what I want to do when I choose to do it is helpful too. Slow does not always mean doing nothing, it means controlling the pace.
And sometimes that is something we can have no control over when we are unwell. But recovery mode, we can slowly claim it back.
Do One Thing for Yourself a Day
This has to be a non medical thing. Some days, I spent the whole day chasing medical things because I am in the zone but they do not improve my mental health. Yes, they make me feel organised, motivated and in control of the physical aspect of my health but they do not lessen any of my anxiety. What does is relaxing music, reading, just switching off for half hour without my phone, doing a face mask or hair mask, something that is nourishing my body.
Do NOT Put Pressure on Yourself.
This can be really hard. Especially if you have been off for a while and the days have turned into weeks. Everyone’s body heals and recovers at different rates so its hard to really estimate how long getting better will take. Clinicians will give an average time – as they see multiple patients and you are just you, alone – but it can vary so much. I always air on the side of caution so I have more time than I need, and I have learnt more about my own recovery time each time something happens.
So I try my best to just focus on me and not what should be happening or all the ‘wrong’ things that have been happening. Looking after number one is more important than fitting into a ‘norm’ that you just can’t do when unwell.
What do you do to help yourself when you’re unwell? I’d love to hear your thoughts.