chronic-illness-and-self-care

…Before Loving Anyone Else

On Monday, I discussed the importance of self-soothing as a means of disease management. Chronic illness and self-care go hand-in-hand, but sometimes we are asked to care for others when needing to care for ourselves.

As a mother, I have to put my needs aside for Jai, but sometimes that’s impossible to do. If I don’t take care of my own needs, I won’t be able to take care of Jai’s. Which is why granting ourselves permission to be selfish is a good thing.

Self-Care Goes Beyond Self

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, caring for ourselves first is the best way to care for others. If I am emotionally incapable of taking care of Jai’s needs because I am so worn out from dealing with other issues, I won’t be able to provide the care that he needs. Rather, if I acknowledge that I need to take a few moments for myself, even if Jai is running around and super active, then I should do so.

If you want to be an effective partner, parent, or friend – take care of yourself first before taking care of others. It’s hard to accept or even want to do because being “selfish” gets a bad reputation. When we say “I must put myself first,” we are being selfish, but selfishness can be a good thing. Especially when we are dealing with others.

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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


where-to-start-with-self-compassion

Where to Start with Self-Compassion

There is a lack of control when it comes to a chronic illness. For many of us, that lack of control gets frustrating and lead us to take our frustrations out on ourselves and those closest to us. True, society doesn’t blame us for feeling frustrated, but I hate feeling like I am mad at everyone, the world, and myself. I had to figure out where to start with self-compassion to help feel better about myself.

I am not going to be discussing anything groundbreaking, but I do want to spend this post detailing ways you can start the process to love yourself in spite of your chronic illness. The person most in need of love is yourself and I want to give you permission to do so.

Chronic Frustration & Struggles

Chronic illnesses lead to feelings of frustration with self beyond the normal struggles people face daily. Some typical struggles may be:

  • Figuring out what is wrong
  • Knowing what’s wrong and not knowing/wanting to deal with it
    • I know that this is an attack, but I really don’t want to go to through the doctor hassle to deal with it. Maybe it will calm down after a few days…
  • Feeling singled out with symptoms
    • Karen has the same illness as me and she seems to be doing better than me. That’s so unfair.
  • Frustration over limitations brought on by the illness
    • I took it easy yesterday so I could do a bunch of stuff today, but I still feel like I was hit by a semi-truck

This is just the tip of the iceberg for frustrations and struggles, but they are very real and impact how we live our lives. Our thoughts hold so much sway over how we act and interact with the world. When we listen to the frustrations and give into perceived limitations, it can impact how we manage our illness and possibly the degree the illness affects us.

We may direct our anger towards ourselves because we feel like we have no one else to blame. We may not want to take it out on loved ones because it’s not their fault. We also may not have anyone to talk to, despite having a possible support group, because chronic illness feels so isolating.

Feeling out of Control

All of this is to say, there’s a complete lack of control over what is going on when dealing with a chronic illness. You may have your illness so well-managed with medication, complementary therapies, and wellness-based living that you feel in complete control of your situation. But all it takes is one slip up, like a bit of unknown gluten slipping in your diet, or just life throwing an unplanned curveball for an attack to arise and make you feel completely out of control.

That’s the problem with chronic illnesses: there isn’t always a concrete reason for the attacks or symptoms. What minimally affects one person may be completely overwhelming for yourself. When I first received my diagnosis I couldn’t help but feel like the universe had it out for me and was so frustrated by the lack of control over my symptoms and disease.

What many of us want in our chronic illnesses is to control the uncontrollable.

An unproductive way to feel in control is to focus negativity inward. Some of us feel a lot of self-loathing and act on that in unhealthy ways, while others may just want to be down on themselves because it’s a “go-to” coping mechanism.

Where to Start with Self-Compassion

Some ways to begin incorporating more self-compassion in your life:

  • Recognizing the moments when you are unnecessarily harsh on yourself. I know that these moments can happen at the most random times for myself, but are highest just before or in the middle of an MS exacerbation.
  • Once those moments are identified, just start saying to yourself “it’s okay, I’m okay, I’m only human and that’s okay.” Come up with a silly, but the memorable mantra that works for you. Positive forms of humor may help shake you out of your feelings of frustration.
  • Talk to yourself like you are soothing a small child. This isn’t a condescending practice, for many of us, there is an inner child needing special love and attention. If you never received guidance on how to speak with a hurt child, think about what you would want a grown-up to say to you when you were younger.
  • Seriously consider looking into therapy for yourself. Sometimes the hurts run too deep that you need an objective third party to sit down and speak with you and provide positive guidance in your journey. Using therapy isn’t defeat, it’s using tools available to you. Ask if they promote self-compassion.

Beginning to see your Self-Worth

The first, and hardest, step you will need to take is acknowledging the following: I am worth loving myself. I am worth caring for myself. I am worth forgiving myself if I feel like I need to.

When you mentally accept that you are worthy of love, particularly your love, you begin a journey down a healing path. You will start to see things differently: relationships, perspective, life-management; all will shift into a more positive and healthy space.

You will get push back and that will be hard.

That’s why saying “I’m worthy” is the first step in the self-compassion journey. When it’s time to care for yourself because someone or something hurt you, you already know that you are worthy of that self-care. You can own your decisions as being what’s best for you, and curtail internal concerns that you are responsible for others.

I have found caring about what others think and how they respond to me puts me in an unhealthy mental space. Saying that I am worthy of positive interactions helped me phase out negative individuals with minimal guilt. The guilt is still there because that’s still ingrained, but I no longer back-track and allow the negativity back into my life.

Do you see your self-worth? What works for you to see it?  Leave your thoughts and suggestions below.


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Featured photo credit: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash


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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