Hard-Learned Lessons in Self-Care

This is a post by Abigail on I Pick Up Pennies.

The wherefore

As you know, I’m very picky as to which companies I’ll consider for sponsored posts. It’s been a while since I found one. These folks, though, are pretty cool.

The company recently launched the Self Care Movement. As the movement’s website put it: “Our mission is to transform perspectives about chronic illness and the way we manage it, to celebrate the greatness in ordinary accomplishments that patients face everyday.”

And so I happily agreed to talk about self-care.

This was nearly something else

But I wasn’t planning this post. Before I left for FinCon, Ihad a self-care post almost done. It was, in fact, exasperatingly close to being done, but that last bit just wouldn’t come.

Finally, I realized why: I couldn’t put into words what self care means to me.

Me. Someone who talks and blogs about the vagaries of chronic illness to anyone who will listen and/or read — and probably a few innocent bystanders along the way, too. I — again, chronic-illness-never-shutter-upper — couldn’t think of what to say about my own self care. At least, not anything beyond “I ask for more help, read and eat Red Vines.”(Though, for the record, those are solid solutions. I stand by them.)

But the past few days’ events have brought into sharp relief just what self-care means – or at least what it should mean to me: Listening to your body.

Waitwaitwaitwaitwait! Before you click away with an exasperated roll of the eyes, this isn’t the normal “listen to your body” stuff. I promise. Okay? Okay.

Listening to your body — really listening — doesn’t happen enough. Because…

We’re too sick to notice we’re sick

Our chronic illnesses hamper our lives. They generate obstacles at what seems like every step. And each time we get used to the status quo, some new wrinkle seems to come up: a completely unprovoked flare, a new symptom, etc.

It makes too many of us to assume that whatever weird new thing our body is doing is, meh,  probably some quirk of our current condition(s).

Thus we dutifully ratchet back our activity, eat better or otherwise take better care of ourselves. Stopping, of course, to pat ourselves on the back for really “listening” to what our bodies are telling us.

And hey, most of the time that’s enough.

But sometimes we’re wrong. Sometimes that quirk is a distress call from your body. And you ignore it at your own peril — quite literally.

Take it from me

The San Diego episode was stupendously myopic on my part. But I know for a fact I’m not alone. Partially because I wasn’t alone. I was at a table with someone who has dealt with fibro symptoms (if not a diagnosis) for around two decades, plus her husband of several years. They know from serious illness.

But as my teeth clacked together and I wondered how an Alaskan girl could have never felt this cold before, not one of us thought it was anything more than overexertion. So we shared a knowing look when the cab driver and later someone in the hotel elevator suggested a hospital. That look said, “Aw, silly little healthy people. So cute with their overreactions.”

The symptoms got worse, but still we didn’t think it was anything serious. Not myself, Mom (who had an unenviable ringside seat) or the aforementioned fibro sufferer, who checked in regularly for updates.

It seems ridiculous. And in a way it was. But chronically ill people get it: I’m so used to being sick that I now have trouble differentiating “normal sick” (I hate that that’s a thing) and “new sick.”

I’m a rebel…ish

Of course, maybe it wasn’t all ignorance. For many of us, while we are diligent in taking care of our health… Well, we’re also really tired of having to be diligent about taking care of our health.

I, for one, am sick of being sick. I’m fed up with the impositions it put on my life. I’m angry by how much of my time is sucked away by doctor visits, medication refills, etc.

So maybe the infection got so bad because, on some (stupid, self-destructive) level, I was protesting the unfairness of it all. Maybe I was subconsciously railing against the fact that none of us have vacation days from our conditions. There are no birthdays, anniversaries or holidays safe from further health-douchebaggery on our illnesses’ parts.

More likely, I was just worn out and cocky. But I do like the idea of myself as a flag waver. I’ll let you decide.

Back to basics

And so I once again have to learn that self care — in its most basic, potent and fierce form — is listening to what your body needs. Which unfortunately may include more hospital visits.

But even “really listening to your body” isn’t very instructive, is it? Because there’s a reason you just slot the latest “What fresh hell is this?” under “normal sick.”

Namely, it’s that your body puts out a lot of white noise. (No, that wasn’t a fart joke. Except now I guess it is.)

We spoonies (or whatever term you prefer) are constantly bombarded with signals from our body. Some of them are fleeting — that cough was more likely to be a dry throat than WebMD’s suggestion of the plague — but some are lingering.

And if you assume the fleeting things are lingering, you’ll quickly drive your doctors (and friends, probably) crazy. Yet if you assume the lingering things are fleeting, you could end up in a world of hurt. Literally.

What next?

So how do we tell the difference? No, seriously, I’m asking you. Hopefully, you know because I clearly haven’t figured it out.

For now, I’ll have to go back to eagle-eyeing the situation. Each new symptom needs to at the very least be assumed to be serious and carefully monitored. Because hey, maybe it’s not the worst thing if I overreact for a while.

As for the rest of you… Ask around about your body’s latest surprise. You probably have favorite chronic illness bloggers, Facebook pages, support groups, etc. So turn to these places to see whether this latest issue is potentially related to your existing condition(s). Or leave a message with your doctor.

Or, with the largest grain of salt you can safely take, check out WebMD. Just remember that all ranges of illness will appear in your results. There’s a difference between being the person who stays aware of her symptoms and takes them seriously and the person who begins to seriously worry about emphysema because she has a persistent cough. Choose wisely.

You can find out more about the Self Movement campaign by checking out the site or its various social media accounts: