Updated: Jul 20, 2021
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Sarah is a married mum of two and a cockapoo. When she isn't writing she can be found knitting and crocheting. She also enjoys camping and scouting (weather and energy levels permitting).
Is Self-Care Easy with a Chronic Illness?
The Simple Answer Is…
This was my initial reaction to reading the above brain-storming prompt for this month’s topics. Everything feels like a struggle to me these days, including the many ways I should be taking care of myself, and I consider myself more fortunate than some other people because I fit into the ‘in-betweener’ category. If I find it difficult to incorporate self-care into my life, how are other people managing to do so when they suffer in worse ways than I do?
Not feeling I had any sort of self-care routine on the go, I Googled ‘self-care ideas’ to see what came up, and to see how many of them I could or couldn’t manage. One of the top results was an article on Good Housekeeping website.
Here I discovered a feature listing over 40 ideas on how to build a self-care routine whereby you adopt a new idea each week. The first idea talked about “putting you first physically, mentally and emotionally”. Perhaps I don’t put myself first mentally and emotionally, but physically is something I’ve been forced to do because of my illness; if I don’t pace myself, I suffer.
The feature also mentioned a mantra we should be reciting to ourselves: “self-care is not selfish”. I agree, but I feel a huge amount of guilt towards not being able to do as much around the house as I used to; every minute I spend on myself is a minute less I’m being useful to my husband and kids (although, thanks to brain-fog, I’m not always very useful anyway!)
This feature on the Good Housekeeping website had not started with the great ideas I was hoping for as a chronic illness sufferer; where are the happy-go-lucky-fun suggestions I want to see, rather than the ‘forced-to-do-because-I’m-ill chores’ and guilt-ridden advice?
It was easy to pick out the ideas I, and many others, would struggle with:
Exercise – their suggestions of lifting weights or taking part in an online exercise class would be far too much for me. 15 minutes slow-paced cycling on our home exercise bike is too much for my knees.
Get better sleep – I wish! Chronic fatigue and I are good friends.
Be outside – I am lucky to have a dog who I enjoy walking, he gets me out of the house every day. But weather and temperature changes, how my body feels each time, lack of energy and even my dog’s behaviour can all affect how mindful the walks are.
Have a strong social life – Much like the being outside suggestion, my social life is hampered by my condition. Even when I do make it to social occasions (in person or online) brain-fog has an effect on how much I participate.
Beauty treatments (either at a spa/salon or at home) – There are days I can’t bring myself to shower or wash my hair, even when I really need to and a relaxing bath is always more about bathing tired, painful muscles than enjoying a good soak.
Drinking plenty of water and eating healthily were also listed as self-care practices, but these again feel like chores to me. I’m already making the effort to do these things to aid managing my condition, rather than feeling better in myself, and even then, the effort required for eating well is not always there. The article ends with two last suggestions that upset me a little. The penultimate idea was to “embrace JOMO” (the joy of missing out). We chronic illness sufferers are doing quite enough of that already, thanks, and too often it’s not out of choice. The final idea to “do nothing”, which went on to explain, “Whether it’s binge-watching your favourite show, getting lost in a good book, or zoning out to music, whatever “nothing” means to you, do it”. That doesn’t sound like nothing to me! Those are some of my favourite things to do, and I feel I’ve accomplished something if I’ve had the energy to read a book, the cognitive functioning to understand the plot of a film, or the memory skills to recall the lyrics to my favourite songs. That’s not nothing to me! I very much hope it isn’t nothing to you too.
Not all the self-care ideas listed in the article are unattainable for us chronic illness sufferers. Here are some you may enjoy, plus some of my own suggestions (now I realise I incorporate more self-care into my life than I’d thought previously), many of which you can enjoy from the comfort of your sofa and/or bed:
Write a grateful list – or write anything frankly, such as a blog post for Spoonie Village or a story you may have come to mind (something I’m trying to do at this time).
Listen to Podcasts – there are hundreds out there to choose from. I personally love Scarlett Moffatt’s ‘I want to Believe’ podcast, available on the BBC Sounds app.
Give yourself a manicure – and, if your hands get as dry as mine do, slap some hand cream on at the same time.
Enjoy crafting – one of my favourite self-care ideas. I love knitting and crochet, and I make gifts too, so it doubles for bringing joy to other people as well. There are many ways to craft, including cross stitch, drawing, and colouring; hopefully you’ll find something you enjoy doing.
Fakeaways – whether you want to cook something from scratch or nuke something in the microwave, fakeaways are a great treat and not as expensive financially or in terms of calories as a takeaway would be. I’ve started to keep some naughtier meals in the freezer for those times I can’t bring myself to cook a proper meal.
Consume books – when the pandemic hit, I discovered my library’s app had tonnes of audiobooks and eBooks available to borrow. I hadn’t picked up any format of book before April last year, but I still managed to consume 45 books by the end of December. This included 27 audiobooks! I read the eBooks on my phone using a stand, as I can’t support the weight of a tablet or eReader anymore. I only have to lift my hand to swipe the page across (although this can be a bit too much for my wrists sometimes).
Puzzles – I mean word searches, crosswords, Sudokus etc. but as I write this, I realise there are jigsaw puzzles too. I complete puzzles on apps on my phone, again using my stand, but there are lots of puzzle magazines and books to buy too.
Watching TV and films – who doesn’t love a good binge watch? I personally recommend anything Tom Hiddleston has ever been in (I’m a HUGE fan!)
Order dessert – We can have a treat every day in moderation. I’ll go one step further by telling you what my mum thinks of dessert; we should start with it and have the main course after if there’s room! Don’t be afraid to have a biscuit before lunch or ice cream before dinner!
Of course, all of these activities require energy we don’t always have, and I often seize up while sitting on the sofa, requiring a movement break to ease the pain; so although these are easy self-care ideas to do, doing them is not always as easy as it may seem.
Maybe I was a little rash in stating self-care isn’t easy for us chronic illness sufferers; it appears I manage to take care of myself in more ways than I realised before writing this blog. Perhaps it’s more a case of it not being as easy as it is for the able-bodied and able-minded; our life to a tee! It just seems ironic that we are the people who need more self-care in our lives, with less-means to do so. We should make the effort, as everyone should, to bring self-care into our lives. We’ll just have to do whatever we can, when we can, however we can.