Using Reflection to Cope With Chronic Illness
The older I get, the more I wonder why self care is something we put aside for the weekend or for vacations rather than making it a part of our everyday life. As a culture, we seem to value those who have a million things to do. However, I think life has a special way of reminding us that we are meant to take time to be good to ourselves. When chronic illness becomes a part of our lives, it forces us to take a close look at how we are caring for ourselves and to make some serious changes.
Spiritual self care means something different to everyone. For me, it is not about religion, but about taking time to reflect on my life. Rheumatoid arthritis has a way of forcing you to be reflective. It asks that you constantly question your thoughts, feelings, and actions. When I can’t control what RA is doing to my body, I can at least control how I am reacting to it.
Daily Walks- To me, daily walks are magical. It doesn’t matter what my mood, circumstances, or even pain levels, a walk is my way of clearing my mind and making sense of the world. I don’t know if it is the sounds of the birds chirping, the activity of squirrels running up and down the trees, the occasional fox or coyote on my path, or the opportunity to slow down and absorb my surroundings that my border collie gives to me with each walk, but it works.
Sunshine- In the spring, summer, and early fall you will often find me sitting on our backyard swing with a pot of tea and a book. Often times I never open the book because the sunshine has grabbed hold of me and taken me hostage. All I can do is raise my head and soak up the sun. I do require a lot of sunshine (Vitamin D tests prove this), and when I honor this need, I am almost instantly re-energized physically and spiritually.
Gratefulness – One of the hardest things to do when you are in the middle of a challenging flare is to be grateful for what you have in your life. But to me, this is the most important time to do it. During a flare I remind myself to stop and “thank” each of my joints for what they do for me. Really, our bodies are amazing. Despite the pain in my knees, my feet and legs keep me going. They take on a lot of stress and deserve to be acknowledged for the work they do. Do I have pity parties? Definitely. When a flare comes out from nowhere and I am up all night fighting the pain in my shoulder or knee, I cry. I cry hard. I let all the tears out and then I get mad at my disease. It’s okay to do that. Afterwards, I feel like the skies opened up to me again and I am ready to see my disease in a new light. I am ready to “thank” my biologic every Friday morning as I inject myself for the massive changes it has made in my life. I am able to feel grateful for my family, friends, home, job, neighborhood, and all the other wonderful things in my life. Gratefulness takes practice, but the more we do it, the more we can look around and see how lucky we are to live the lives we do.
Meditation/Visualization – I wish I was that person that took ten-thirty minutes every day to meditate, but I have finally admitted to myself that this is not me. I find that when my mind is on overload, I do meditate for ten minutes and wonder why I don’t do it all the time, but I don’t. I have accepted that meditation is there for me when I need it. What I am good at is visualization. During my worst days of rheumatoid arthritis when I struggled to lift a cup to tea with two hands, I visualized myself lifting that cup with no problem. Visualization has always been my friend. When I start to see the worst that can come with rheumatoid arthritis, my friend “visualization” steps in and asks me to redirect my visions. Almost immediately I can see myself jumping out of bed, going for a long bike ride, hugging my family without pain, and much more. Guess what? I am finally there. I now have more good days than bad. Seeing myself in this place definitely helped get me here.
What would I say to a friend?- This concept is something I am still working on but I believe has great potential for spiritual growth. Often times we run ourselves ragged. We keep going and going and going as if our batteries will never run out and then we are surprised when we are stuck in a terrible flare. What I am slowly learning is to look at myself as I would a friend. A friend can look at me and say, “Hey, you are doing way too much. Slow down!” I am working on being that friend to myself, reminding myself to take breaks, to slow down and not take on the world.
Even though our society seems to be addicted to filling every single minute of our day with some type of activity, please don’t get caught up in this movement. When you are dealing with a chronic disease, your life instantly becomes different than those around you. The pain you feel is begging you to slow down and focus on yourself. You deserve it. We can’t always manage how much pain our disease is going to dole out, but we can gain control of how we spiritually care for ourselves.
How do you practice spiritual self care? I'd love to hear.
For more ideas on making self care a priority, check out SelfCareMVMT. Their mission is "to transform perspectives about what it means to be a patient and the way we manage chronic illness, celebrating the greatness in ordinary accomplishments that patients face every day." I love this. I am ready to join the movement. #selfcaremvmt