If you'd like to see the introduction to this series, please click here to see part one
There is one guarantee in life that is somehow magnified when you are someone with chronic illness. There will be bad days. It’s true that everyone has them. Even those that have never had so much as a sprained ankle or a flu their entire life are not immune. However - with chronic illness – we experience a special brand of them.
There are periods of time when these days where we wake up feeling 10 times worse than our normal seem like they will never end. Sometimes it’s more like a ‘bad month’ or a ‘bad year’. And then there are times when your health is somewhat under control, and they hit you by surprise. Somehow feeling harder to deal with.
There’s a myriad of complication that comes with trying to deal with these days.
Number 1 – sometimes there is no rhyme or reason.
Sure, sometimes you know exactly why you feel extra bad. You had to go to a wedding or do a thing that’s way above what you know you can handle. But other times, the bad days just hit with no warning at all. You can’t figure out the trigger, and worst of all, you can’t explain it to anyone else. It feels difficult to justify spending extra time - or even all day - in bed resting when you have no ‘good reason’.
Number 2 – bad days never get easier
They get you down just as much as when a “normal” gets a cold or a stomach bug. But because your thing is chronic, it can feel like you’re not allowed to complain. Often, I actually don’t want to complain because that in itself in exhausting. But then I have to deal with the added complication of nobody actually realizing I feel extra-shit. They’ll ask me to go out, do things, and wonder why I groan. And then I realize I have failed to mention I woke up feeling like death warmed up. It just starts to feel like a kind of ‘broken record’ type scenario sometimes.
Number 3 – they are guaranteed to get you down, every time.
If you’re stuck in a long, drawn-out flare-up that is not resolving; waking up feeling crappy yet again brings an intense feeling of let-down. Because you probably tried 3 things the previous day to get you out of this particular flare, and likely went to bed with some degree of hope that tomorrow would be better.
On the flip side; if you’ve been feeling OK for a while and you wake up with a ‘surprise’ bad day, this can almost be worse. It can be a bit shocking – like maybe you were lulled into a false sense of security that your stupid body wouldn’t do this again. And then there’s fear. Is this another long flare? Will it ever go away? Will it get worse? Will I end up in hospital? Bad days are bad news. Just…. Period.
I could go on, but I do have intentions of actually offering some practical advice in this post, and it would be less than ideal to write something 3 hours long.
To deal with the bad days in a way that makes them suck the most minimal amount possible, I endeavor to do the following things:
As previously mentioned, being taken by surprise by a bad day is one of the worst feelings to tackle. In order to minimize this particular brand of sucky-ness, just accept that yeah, you’ve got a chronic illness. Your streak of good days will never last very long, and there’s not much you can do about it. Sure, you can keep tweaking meds and lifestyle factors to increase your odds, but you can’t make yourself immune. So expect the bad days, and try not to be surprised or let down when they come around. If you can wake up on a bad day not feeling shocked, let down, and scared but rather just think “well; today I need to rest, and that’s OK”, then you’re going to get through that day with a lot less strife.
Talk about them
I also explained that it can be difficult to talk about what’s happening on a bad day. It feels exhausting and repetitive to “complain” about symptoms, but yet, your loved ones and family need to know so that they are not too demanding of you. I strongly advise trying to explain this to your significant other(s), whoever that is, when it is NOT a bad day. Explain the way they make you feel, your symptoms and your limitations on a bad day. And then when you wake up on that dreaded morning, you can simply say “today is a bad day, I need to rest”. And your people should get it.
Prepare for them
If your bad days have you stuck in bed or stuck in the house, this can lead to boredom no matter how painful your symptoms are. We’re used to dealing with the pain and discomfort in our bodies, so it tends to go to the back of our minds. So when we’re stuck in one place, the remaining part of our brain will inevitably get bored, and start thinking. Usually too much. We can enter into a spiral of emotions about being stuck in bed, about how our lives are not how we want them, about a conversation we had 3 weeks ago, whatever. If anxiety and/or depression are on your list – this is a dangerous zone to go into.
So aside from your go-to meds, drinks, foods etc for symptom relief; always be ready for when a bad day hits with a favorite place to sit or lie. Somewhere you can see the sky. It's often a good idea to try to have an alternative from your bedroom if that's a possibility for you. Give a little thought to your immediate environment – are there allergens around you? Is there an essential oil you like to burn? Do you feel more at peace with lots of light, or just a little? Does having a tidy room make you calmer? (I know it does for me!) If your immediate environment is kept in a way that keeps you feeling calm and more positive, this will contribute to your mind set throughout the day. You might need to ask for help to make this happen. And you absolutely should!
Have 3 or 4 things ready at your side to do, taking into account which activities can sometimes aggravate symptoms so that you can switch activities for comfort. I like to have audio books ready, so that when actual books or TV screens give me a headache I can stop looking, and just listen. I also like to color. Something about listening to a book and coloring at the same time can entertain my brain for hours. Choose whatever works for you, I have no judgement.
Three things, that’s not too much to remember, right? Expect them, talk about them, prepare for them. I truly believe that following these three steps in anticipation of bad days makes them just that much more bearable. I am certainly not boasting a new found immunity to letting bad days get me down. And it’s OK if even when following these three steps, they still do. This thing we are going through is hard. And we can’t expect ourselves to cope perfectly all the time. I hope, though, that following these three steps helps you, like it helps me, to just get through with a little less pain.
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