Living with a chronic illness often resembles a roller coaster ride. Climbing to the highest point of health and wellness takes a tremendous amount of effort and just as you take a deep breath to enjoy the view you crash quickly to the bottom again. My health was the best it had been in months leading up to my final semester of college thanks to some positive results from a new treatment. The simplest things – walking around the block or sitting up more than lying down in a day – thrilled me.
A few weeks before returning to college my health plummeted again. The relapse left me with more pain than I wanted to deal with and intense feelings of confusion and discouragement. In the aftermath of the relapse I slowly realized I was going to be ok, I just needed to allow myself space to do a few important things. These things became key lessons I’ve learned that still help me in the ups and downs of life with a chronic illness.
Lesson 1: It is 100% okay to cry! It is okay to cry three or five or seven times a day. I needed to find a friend or favorite stuffed animal and just cry it out. Relapses bring so many challenging emotions almost overnight. It isn’t easy for me to process them quickly, so I learned to take time to cry and let some emotions out that way.
Lesson 2: Rest, rest, rest! In my current health situation resting doesn’t make me better, but it can keep me from getting worse, especially right after a relapse. Resting enough took lots of intentionality after my last relapse because I was getting ready to go back to college. I’ve learned to rest, even if it is just in 20 minutes segments throughout the day because my body needs stillness in order to help keep my health stable.
Lesson 3: Take a breath. This isn’t the end. Do the next thing on the list. I learned to keep putting on foot in front of the other when I had my last relapse. I celebrated completing the simplest things like getting dressed in the morning, or brushing my teeth before bed each evening. When I’m going through a relapse those little things become the big wins that help me move through my days.
My last relapse turned my world upside down. I’ve experienced numerous health crashes, but this time these helpful lessons started to stick. In the days and weeks following the initial pain from the relapse, pieces of my life started to fit back together and my health symptoms began to return to their “normal” place in my day to day journey.
My friend, if you are facing a relapse, or even just a day of extra symptoms, cry if you feel the need to. Rest your tired body and mind. Breathe and take that next step, whatever it may be or however small it is. You are a fighter and you are so brave.