self-soothing-as-chronic-illness-treatment

Learning to Love Yourself…

Credit: WP.com at Gfycat.

I am a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race. In my low emotional moments, Ash reminded me of what RuPaul says to her queens at the close of every episode: “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love anybody else?” I laughed at the reminder, but he was right. Loving myself is a form of self-soothing and a great way to manage my chronic illness.

If I don’t learn to love myself and treat myself right, how am I expected to care for anyone else? An easy form of showing love for ourselves is to engage in the act of self-soothing.

Not Just for Babies

Look up self-soothing on your search engine of choice, and you’ll find tips to teach babies and toddlers to self-soothe. I am in the middle of this milestone as I work with Jai to find appropriate self-soothing techniques. Because of this, it’s fresh in my mind of how important self-soothing emotionally and physically.

At its very core, self-soothing is finding ways to calm ourselves down. Parents are encouraged at the beginning to provide healthy tools for children to care for themselves. Sometimes these techniques carry into adulthood. But some people use less healthy means to soothe, chemicals and unhealthy behaviors can distract from negative feelings.

As we grow older and life experiences get in the way, there is a tendency to forget or dismiss the important stuff we learned as children. If you were never properly trained to healthfully self-soothe, this concept is completely foreign. Rather than looking at self-soothing as something for babies, look at it as a healthy way to manage your emotions with love and compassion.

Self-Soothing for Adults

I still sleep with my childhood teddy bear because it feels weird to not use him as a pillow or cradle him in my arms. It’s something that brings me comfort and helps me fall asleep faster. And as a mother of a toddler, more sleep = more energy in the morning.

I mention this because it’s a form of self-soothing I’ve carried over since childhood.

You may not still have your childhood stuffed animal, or partners might make us feel uncomfortable if we start reaching for childhood comforts, so consider more grown-up techniques to soothe yourself:

  • If you have an oral fixation, consider drinking an herbal tea. Use honey as a sweetener (if you aren’t vegan) as this will help relax you.
  • Grant yourself a few minutes to veg out on your phone, tv, computer, etc. Instead of feeling guilty about it (“I should be doing this…”), set yourself a timer and give yourself permission to escape for a few minutes.
  • Pick up a new hobby that is both fun and stress-free. If you’ve never had the opportunity, consider doing a group painting night or paint ceramics. Make something that you can appreciate and reminds you of the fun you had while creating it.
  • Give yourself a hug. This could be a bath (if your illness allows it), getting a mini-massage, or taking yourself out to coffee.

Self-Soothing as Chronic Illness Treatment

So how can self-soothing help as a chronic illness treatment?

If you recognize warning signs of an attack or feeling overwhelmed, take this time to soothe yourself. While the above section works if you have a chronic illness, there are a few more ideas that are specific to chronic illness:

Because, well, You’re Worth It

The key concept is that you are worth taking the time to care for yourself.

Chronic illness can beat us down and make us feel bad about ourselves.  Sometimes these feelings are a secondary response to the illness or in the case of MS, the illness directly impacting brain function.

Self-soothing is a way to regain control over the uncontrollable situation and saying that I am worth my love. If you struggle with loving yourself, consider taking the baby steps of self-soothing as a means to get to a place where you are able to more actively take care of yourself.

Loving Yourself

Self-soothing boils down to loving yourself and telling yourself on a daily basis that you are worthy of that love. It’s also acknowledging that there will be low points and so you need to take the time to mitigate that.

How do you take care of yourself? What makes you feel better when you are feeling low emotionally? Leave your thoughts and comments below.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Toddler Life Lessons

This post was originally published August 2018.


Toddlers are too young to understand deep, philosophical lessons. They are too young to understand moral quandaries. They are too young to really grasp right from wrong.

As parents, we know that just because they can’t understand it, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taught. I feel like this is a “no, duh” moment many parents are saying to themselves right now.

Yet an issue I run into as I parent Jai with Ash is knowing what lessons to teach and how best to teach them. Questions I ask myself on a daily basis: is this something worth correcting Jai on? How do I correct him, with a warning or straight to time out? Should I follow the mainstream recommendation or go with my instinct?

A mentor once told me years ago, well before I met Ash, that you are never truly prepared to have a child. So if you want to have one, you have to just jump in and learn as you go. It won’t be easy, but the payoff will be worth it in the end when you have a functioning, well-adjusted adult that wants to have a relationship with you after they’ve moved out of the house.

But in order to achieve this, I have to begin training Jai to be polite, thoughtful, a good listener, able to share, and comfortable with adults as a toddler. The list is a bit longer than that, but those are the main concerns I have on a daily basis with a toddler.

As I am training Jai, I have to be mindful of several things: I’m an adult, what battles to pick and being humble throughout the whole experience.

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Furbaby Love

For the month of November, I am taking each day to highlight some element in my life that I want to express my gratitude. This could be something deeply personal or just a passing appreciation for something more superficial. 


Before Ash and I had Jai, we adopted three cats.

And we were, and to a lesser extent still are, crazy cat parents. Our cats are spoiled. They have multiple beds (some are heated) around the house, two big kitty towers, a box filled with toys, a drawer filled with treats, and wet food for all their meals.

They are well-cared for and loved by us, with Jai learning how to respect animals and be gentle towards them.

Furbabies for many, as was the case for us, are the first and sometimes the only children for couples. Two were present for our wedding, and all three were there during my diagnosis. They were there when I went into labor and will hopefully be with us for a while longer for some more milestones.

Because they were there for major events in our relationship they are huge emotional supports for Ash and myself. For that, I am grateful to be able to share my life with them and all they do for us as devoted companion animals.

I am especially grateful for Lytton and all the love and affection he gave me from day one.

Little Ball of Love

Lytton is my cat. He’s a beautiful, silky Bombay rescue that has a smart aleck attitude with an emphasis on smart. Sure, I am slightly biased, but he really is an awesome cat. We went into the rescue and Lytton picked me instantly. I was looking at a couple other cats that were available for adoption, but he kept reaching for me and looking for my attention.

How could I say no? We ended up adopting him with his foster brother, Gerard.

Wherever I go in the house Lytton has to follow me. Many nights he sleeps on my pillow or between Ash and myself. Recently he’s taken to nipping Ash if he gets too close to me in bed. If I go away for a couple of days he acts mad with me, but within several hours he won’t leave me alone, nuzzling me until I give him some scratches and my lap.

Most endearing is he can pick up emotional states and will provide comfort when a person (not just myself) feels low. We’ve had several guests come over and Lytton revealed that they are going through something by way of pestering them for attention.

Five years ago, while I was dealing with trying to figure out what was going on with me and immediately after my diagnosis, Lytton filled in where Ash could not emotionally and physically. This is to say that Ash would be at work and I would be at home resting, Lytton would function as an unofficial emotional support animal for me. If I needed to cry in frustration or have a warm body lying next to me while I slept, Lytton was there until Ash got home.

And Baby Makes Six

Lytton has effectively taken on the role as a second father for Jai. When I was nursing Jai he would curl up alongside Jai as a barrier to prevent rolling. I don’t believe this was his intention, I think it had everything to be close to the little heater newborns are, but it was a sweet gesture.

When Jai wants alone time in his room, Lytton will perch on the rocker almost as if he’s watching over Jai. Lytton truly seems invested in Jai’s wellbeing which makes sense considering he never left my side while I was pregnant. Whenever I was home, Lytton was my shadow. I have many pictures of him using my belly as a pillow or reaching his paw out to touch me while we tried to nap.

When I was in early labor, Lytton plopped himself on my lap and slept with his head on my belly and purred until I had to change positions. He was a wonderful comfort to me and I think even for Jai in those moments (I can imagine the vibrations from purring was soothing immediately after a contraction).

lyttonlove

Lytton while I was in early labor.

A Lifetime of Friendship & Comfort

Having the cats there for me during the diagnosis, pregnancy, labor, and even today really helps keep my stress levels down. Lytton or Christopher will curl alongside me on the couch or the bed and even if we aren’t touching, their presence brings a lot of comfort to me.

With my MS, having that emotional support for my stress is extremely important. It wasn’t until I started being more mindful of the connection between stress-levels and flare-ups that I recognized the importance of our furbabies. I started taking the time to sit, stroke, and enjoy my time with them more than before as a means to calm down.

Now, when it’s time for my afternoon nap, I call out to Lytton to let him know I am heading upstairs for a nap. Sometimes he follows and on the times he does not, I wake up with him alongside me in some fashion.

While I know Lytton, Gerard, and Christopher’s time with us are short, I know that they provided us with a lifetime of love and memories. I think we will always have a furbaby in the home with us, whether it’s feline or canine, because of the comfort they provide us. I also know that having a companion animal helps children learn compassion, something that I want to teach Jai. For all that they do, even if it’s nothing but be available for a quick scratch, I am grateful for our furbabies.

Do you have any furbabies that help care for you in little, endearing ways? How have they provided comfort in your life? Leave your stories in the comments.


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Illness as a Positive

For the month of November, I am taking each day to highlight some element in my life that I want to express my gratitude about. This could be something deeply personal or just a passing appreciation for something more superficial. 


Having a chronic illness is no fun.

I know that’s a bit of a shocker for anyone reading this, especially if you have a chronic illness/disability. That said, having a chronic illness did bring about a positive change in my life: I think it forced me to rethink my life and my health and make important changes.

I am not about to turn this post into inspiration porn (don’t worry, that link is safe for work), but I do want to express gratitude for the wake-up call my MS gave me. I call it my “rock bottom” because it forced me to make some decisions about the direction I wanted to take physically, mentally, and emotionally. I do, however, wish it hadn’t taken a chronic illness diagnosis to make these changes

I would be more than happy to give back my illness and keep all the healthy changes if given a chance. 

Prior to the Diagnosis

To understand why I am grateful for my current health, it’s best to compare it to where I was physically prior to my diagnosis.

I’ve hinted at my state in previous posts throughout the blog, but I never fully discussed my mental and physical state. Partially because it was never necessary to the post, but mostly because I was ashamed of where I was at in life.

I was delusional about my physical health. It’s easy to see that on the other side, but living in the middle of it I thought I was healthy. I would eat vegan, run, do yoga, try to meditate when the time would allow, but essentially go through the motions of what I thought was healthy living.

And then I would wonder why I wasn’t losing weight. I justified it by saying this to myself repeatedly:

Ah, that’s just muscle being put on. Muscle weighs more than fat.

I am just stressed out right now, so once I get beyond this period, I will be fine. I need to eat like this because it’s how I am coping with my stress.

Apparently, my 5’3″ body is meant to be 160 pounds. Since I can’t lose the weight, that must be my natural set point.

I also didn’t feel better, I was just grumpier for waking up earlier and sweating a bunch with little to no payoff.

Let me be clear and say that weight is not the absolute indicator of health: athletes can be considered overweight and be at peak physical fitness. A person can be a normal weight and be coping with an illness of sorts. Weight can be a symptom of a bigger problem and it can also cause other issues, but looking at weight for whether a person is healthy or not shouldn’t be the only factor. It is just one of the factors.

Through most of my adult life, I was carrying around an additional 20-30 pounds. This extra weight played a negative role in my overall activity level, my mood, my energy levels, and my depression. I firmly believe that these factors exacerbated my MS symptoms. There were days where I would come home after teaching and fall asleep for hours until Ash got home, wherein he’d have to make or order us dinner.

It was always a slog to get any important work done for school and professionally speaking.

Prior to my diagnosis, I had very little motivation to make any positive changes in my life. I would do it in spurts, but those would fade out when I didn’t see immediate results. I had nothing truly motivating me beyond “this is what our culture tells me to do.” It wasn’t enough and therefore I couldn’t stay motivated to continue.

I figured I could never get into peak physical and emotional condition because I just couldn’t. No other reason other than that: I just was not able to be healthy.

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The Big & the Little Things

For the month of November, I am taking each day to highlight some element in my life that I want to express my gratitude about. This could be something deeply personal or just a passing appreciation for something more superficial. 


It always feels weird “counting one’s riches” because it seems like bragging, but I think it’s important to acknowledge the objects I have to make my life easier.

A lot of gratitude exercises focus on the internal and intangible, which to be fair are things that should hold deeper meaning in our lives, but something could be said for the objects we possess. The trap is when someone focuses on what they have, they can also see what they lack which can cause frustration and undermine the whole exercise.

Avoiding that trap, I want to focus my gratefulness for my basic possessions. I think it’s important to look at what I have and where I am in life because every person is one or two decisions/disasters away from losing these objects.

Living Arrangements

I am lucky enough to live in a house, though if you’ve ever had a conversation with me you know how much I hate the house itself. I can spend a half-hour ranting about all the things wrong with it, but deep down I acknowledge that I could be in a situation without a living arrangement.

Owning a house is important from a social perspective, though people of my generation are buying less and opting to rent more, it also means that it is ours with little opportunity to lose it beyond a disaster. There is a security that comes from our current living arrangement.

As the days grow shorter and the nights much colder, I recognize how fortunate we are to have a warm house to sleep in, especially for Jai. Living insecurity is a real concern even in America for children, so knowing that he has a safe, warm, and secure place for Jai to sleep at night takes a load of worry off of my mind.

Transportation

We live in a major metropolitan area that has its own transportation system, though massively flawed. When I first moved down ten years ago from New England, I depended on this form of transportation because I didn’t have a vehicle. While it was imperfect, I remember being grateful to have it available to get to my various jobs around the city.

I grew up in an area that didn’t even have regional transportation and what little transportation it did have it was reserved for people with disabilities and not for the general public. Going from nothing to something was opening up the world for me and I loved it. It might take me two hours to get somewhere, but I could get there.

Several years after the move down I got my car back (I previously had no means to park it which is why it stayed behind) and going from public transportation to having a vehicle was even more freeing. I made sure to give rides to people who needed them to return the favors I accumulated over the years without a car. While I could now cut trip times down by half, I never forgot my time on public transportation.

Anytime I can go somewhere and use public transportation, I take the chance even with Jai. I want him to learn and appreciate the transportation system we have in place. I am a huge defender of our transportation system, though I will heavily qualify it as problematic and needing fixing, I do want to see the changes.

That said, I am grateful I have a vehicle and when I go an extended period of time without my car, even with a rental, I recognize how important it is in my life.

Food

During the same period ten years ago when I didn’t have my car I also went through an extremely lean period regarding my ability to eat. I was struggling to make ends meet and chose to pay for my bills and rent over buying food for myself. I started dating Ash around this time, but I didn’t admit to him how little I could afford to eat. Rather, I would offer to make him dinner which was cheaper, provided he pay for the ingredients.

I lost a lot of weight during that time between not being able to eat and walking everywhere with public transportation. I was grateful for that silver lining (I had plenty of weight to lose at that point).

While I figured I would eventually see the end of this lean eating period, I knew I had it better than others. I was able to eat at least one quality meal a day, but I know there are plenty of others who can go days without food or quality food options.

I honestly found this period of my life to be the most enlightening, food uncertainty did help shape my personal perspective going forward: I would always donate and help out in any way I could for others who had no way of knowing when their period of lean eating would come to an end.

When Jai gets older, I want to bring him to opportunities to help others who are dealing with food uncertainty. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, a major charity in our city opens up its facilities for people to donate their time and energy to make meals for the poor. I have always wanted to donate my time there, but haven’t had the ability. I think when he’s 7 he’ll be ready to help and appreciate what he is doing for others.

What are some of the more tangible things you are grateful for in your life? What brings about an appreciation for these things? Comment with your thoughts below.


Like this post? Make sure to follow me on your favorite social media platform and show some love by sharing it. Links found below.

Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton