When I was first diagnosed with an autoimmune illness 10-plus years ago my life came to a screeching halt. I had big questions, not the least of which was “How will I take care of my family, and at the same time take care of myself?” Our extended family was out of state, and we had just moved to a new city, so relying on friends to help was out of the question. It became quickly obvious that, although my medical doctors could provide me with the medicine I need to quell or soften my symptoms, the heavy lifting of figuring out what worked for my body was up to me. An autoimmune disease, by definition, is when the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells, and admittedly there is much that the medical community doesn’t know about them. My physicians encouraged me to seek alternative methods to soothe my symptoms, while maintaining my medication regimen. I have tried it all. Here are my Top 5 Best Practices for navigating Chronic Pain, Illness, and Auto-Immune Illness.
#1 Let Go of Guilt
Suffering with chronic pain or autoimmune illness often comes with a nice, big, healthy dose of GUILT. It’s definitely a gritty 1-2-Punch to navigate health issues, while also being unavailable for the people you love. However, guilt comes from what society has conditioned us to believe. “I have to attend all of my son’s baseball games.” “I have to make dinner for my family every night.” “My spouse will be so disappointed and stressed if he has to do it all on his own this week.” These societal constraints are what causes the guilt that adds to our suffering. I would offer to you that my sons and husband would rather have me healthy than care if I performed what society has defined as the typical role of wife and mom. My family has also learned and benefited from my empathic nature and compassion that, had it not been for my AI, I would likely not have. Next time your brain is telling you to do something and your body says “no,” ask yourself, “Is it true? Do I really need to make dinner tonight, or is that just what I’m socialized to believe?” Then order a pizza.
#2 Find Your Stillness
When I was first diagnosed with autoimmune illnesses (Like most people with them, I have a few) I couldn’t get out of bed because the pain was so bad. I discovered that when I actually connected and ‘dropped into’ my body and breathed I would feel much better. Instead of dispelling my pain I began to sit with it; breathe into it; meditate on it. I learned that my body had things to tell me when I deeply listened to it. Things like, “Hey you’re thirsty,” “That pain goes away if you use a heating pad,” and “It’s time to see your massage therapist.” Learn to find your stillness. Meditation and mindfulness do not have to be sitting in lotus position for an hour, and shutting off your brain. That’s definitely an option, but my ADHD MIND would never allow this. Meditation can be a repeated action (or mantra) that gets you out of your brain and into your body. Stillness can come in the form of listening to a guided visualization or ASMR. Find what works for you to be rooted in the present moment. Once you begin a mindfulness practice it will change your life. TRUTH!! You will love yourself for it!
#3 Move Every Day
I’m not suggesting you leave your bed to run, or even walk a 5k. On the contrary. What I am suggesting is intentional movement. So walking from bed to bathroom and back does not count. On your most painful days, when even the weight of your bedsheet is too much to bear, here is what does count: flexing your joints (fingers, toes, arms and ankles—all the other joints) a few times each. You can do this from your bed. Rolling from your bed onto the mat, and getting into child’s pose. Stay there for a bit, stretching your body, reaching your fingers and toes, arms and legs; or if you are able to stand, stretch your arms, legs and flanks deeply. Do what feels good. These gentle movements will help release endorphins (feel good hormones) within your body, as long as they’re done intentionally, with love and deep respect for your body. I realize how simple this sounds. It’s meant to be simple. I also realize that for many of us pain is so great that this seems impossible. Please, trust in yourself. You can do hard things. Commit to yourself to do it for 3 days. See how you feel. Be gentle. Don’t push. Do what feels like ❤️ love ❤️ for your body.
#4 Ask For Help
For many of us with chronic pain and autoimmune illness, asking for help and asking for what we need is painfully difficult. We often suffer in silence instead of saying, ‘honey, can you make dinner so I can lay down?’ Or perhaps you play with your children a bit more physically than you should have, instead of opting for a half-hour of Disney Channel and putting your feet up? Whatever your go-to ‘I must do it ALL, and all by myself’ thought happens to be, I have some important news! There is no prize for doing it yourself. There is no martyrdom, no cash-reward, no participation trophy. You’re limiting-beliefs and pride are telling you to do it alone. Your limiting beliefs are saying, ‘If I don’t make dinner tonight then my partner will be annoyed.’ And, “I must give my kids the attention they crave, or they’ll turn out to be sociopaths.” I spent many years, asking myself this question; usually while laying in my bed, in the middle of a flare-up, trying not to breathe too hard. Aren’t my needs just as important as everyone else’s? The answer is yes! Yes, they are. Often the most difficult thing we can do is to ask for what we need. Learn to ask. Ask for everything you need. We all deserve that.
#5 Give Yourself Permission To Dissolve Everything
When your doing life with chronic pain, illness or autoimmune disease everyday is kind of a crap-shoot. You do whatever’s necessary to prohibit flare-ups, but there’s never any guarantee. We often still overcommit, continue relationships that no longer serve our souls, subscribe to hustle culture, ignore boundaries that we should have put in place long ago, and more. It requires radical self-love to change the cycle. It requires deep listening to what you really need. It requires DISSOLUTION. Your Dissolution will be uncomfortable for many, perhaps including yourself. Surrender control of the things that don’t really matter. Ask yourself “How does doing this, being here, being with XYZ feel in my body?” Begin the process of determining what’s needed, to go from suffering to peace. That may look like parting from relationships that cause you suffering, or saying ‘NO’ the next time you’re asked to bake cookies for the school bake sale. Doing the things because you feel like you’re supposed to is akin to living life against your integrity.
Living with Autoimmune Illness and/or Chronic Pain means searching out the exact methods of treatment and complementary alternatives that allow you to live the very best, pain-free life that you’re able. Having an illness does not mean you have to have a “lesser than” life. On the contrary. Although my preference would surely have been not to have an autoimmune disease, my life has been profoundly enriched by the journey I have forged toward better health. If you or someone you love are suffering with chronic pain and could benefit from my coaching contact me for a free consultation.