10 Things You Can Do to Live Well with Chronic Illness
The fact that currently there is no cure for ME/CFS and fibromyalgia does not preclude the possibility of recovery. By learning tools to manage our illness on a daily basis, we can change its impact on our quality of life, and perhaps even change the course of the disease. Here are 10 principles that can help us learn to live well.
1. View recovery as a process.
Rather than look for the one “magic bullet” that will cure you, see every action as a step on the road to improved health. Don’t expect to see overnight changes; slow progress is still…progress.
2. Try to let go of fear.
The unpredictability of ME/CFS or fibromyalgia and uncertainty about the future causes a great amount of fear and anxiety. The best way to cope with this is to focus on the moment as best you can and take it one day at a time. Avoid contemplating the “what ifs.”
3. Avoid negative people and things.
As you increase your awareness of fluctuations in pain, mood, and energy level, you may begin to notice patterns. Do certain activities leave you more drained than usual? Does spending time with certain people make you especially depressed or frustrated? Try to focus your energies on what enhances your sense of well-being, and let go of what damages it.
4. Listen to your body.
Learn how to carefully observe your body’s signals and adjust your energy expenditure accordingly. Even as your condition improves it’s essential to pace yourself, balancing activity with rest. Know that overdoing will have consequences. Sometimes making the choice to overdo is necessary and worthwhile, but we can try to plan for this by allowing more downtime afterward.
5. Keep track of your symptoms and progress.
It’s helpful to monitor your symptoms and the factors that affect them. Based on your conclusions, you can make more effective decisions about your activities and environment. Record-keeping also allows you to see progress over time.
6. Accept your limitations.
We live in a society that emphasizes what we do rather than who we are. The limitations imposed by ME/CFS or fibromyalgia may require us to shift our identities somewhat away from external accomplishments and create a lifestyle that accommodates our need for rest. You may not be able to do the same job you did before or exercise as long or as hard. Look for new ways to respond to what your body needs at every stage.
7. Cultivate supportive relationships.
Spending time with people you care about is good for the body and the soul. People who are supportive of you can provide love, encouragement, and help with practical matters like doctors’ visits or difficult household tasks. Reaching out to others is essential to combat the loneliness and isolation that is inherent with a debilitating illness. Don’t waste energy on those who can’t or won’t try to understand or accommodate your illness; focus on the people who do.
8. Think positively, not unrealistically.
Many people with chronic illness learn to enjoy and appreciate things they never did before. Try to focus on what you have, rather than what you’ve lost, on what you can do rather than on what you can no longer do. This is not to say you should adopt a “Pollyanna” attitude. Acknowledging feelings of loss and sadness is equally important. Recognize and express your feelings, but try not to dwell on them.
Most ME/CFS or fibromyalgia patients who consider themselves “recovered” report that some type of relaxation is essential to achieving and maintaining better health. Some practice mindfulness, meditation, or deep breathing. Cultivating a peaceful environment is also important.
10. Be patient and compassionate with yourself.
As ME/CFS and fibromyalgia sufferers, we are sometimes our own worst enemies. The pressure we put on ourselves, the guilt we feel about our limitations, and the judgments and self-criticism that occupy our minds all serve to increase stress and detract from our inner healing powers. Strive to nurture yourself, look for simple pleasures, and forgive your shortcomings. Believe that recovery is possible with time, and know that you’re doing the best you can.
You already have the precious mixture that will make you well. Use it.”
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like:
Chronic Illness: The Meaning of Recovery
How to “recover” from an illness that can’t be cured