I've found that the first step in pulling yourself up after a flare knocks you face-down on the pavement is to realize that you must have a plan.
This epiphany should happen while you are still on the ground. Maybe you haven't been discharged from the hospital yet. Maybe you're home but are still in the throws of whatever pain or infection that started all this. Maybe you're thinking why should I even bother to make a plan when I can't even get out of bed?
When your life feels directionless and you're in the midst of a post-illness sadness, you have to turn your attention not to what you have missed out on or let fall through the cracks -- but to what steps you're going to take, not to get back to where you were, but to an even better place.
Recently I found myself in a two month long in-and-out of the hospital, on heavy doses of painkillers, kind of flare. And everything became unglued. I couldn't work. I couldn't plan for my wedding or my fiancé's graduation party. I couldn't keep up with my friends or care for my house, my appearance or relationships. And when the heavy waves that kept knocking me off my feet finally receded, I was left with the crumbled, disorganized pieces of my life with no clue how I was going to put it all back together and move forward.
You're never going to walk out of a major flare, snap your fingers and watch your life magically put itself back together. It doesn't happen overnight. It will take work and time. But you'll get there.
Making a plan saved me from the gut-punch of anxiety that hit me every time I looked at my overloaded inbox or piles upon piles of laundry.
To start, I made a list of the sections of my life that needed help:
- My strength: Two months of what was practically bed rest left me in a feeble state. I wasn't going to lift weights the next day, but I could slowly start taking supplements, get massages and adjustments to wake up my muscles, and begin walking around the neighborhood each day to increase my endurance. One small step at a time.
- My relationship: This flare was difficult for me, but it was just (if not more) difficult for the people I love. And with a chronic disease, this kind of pressure can weigh down on your relationships. What I needed was to make plans -- going out to dinner, the movies, and maybe even look into going on a vacation in the near future. Most importantly: we needed to laugh and to put a priority on having fun.
- My work: I had scaled back on my hours considerably while dealing with this flare. But the moment I stepped out of the hospital I went to my calendar and scheduled out my work week. Slowly, over two weeks, I built back up my hours -- and even when I had moments of panic about getting it all done, I felt reassured to know that I had every intention of being back to my regular schedule by the end of the month.
- My organization: As soon as I'm able to make it to the grocery store, my first errand is to refill my hospital kit with things like toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo or cleaning wipes. I plan a day to do all the laundry. I call to reschedule all the appointments that I missed and return all the voicemails that I've barely had a moment to listen to. Slashing these simple errands off my list is an easy way to feel like I'm having a direct hand in the improvement of my life.
- My goals: New Years is a great time for resolutions, but going through a particularly awful illness and coming out on the other end of it is an even better time! Having short and long term goals can be both motivating and stabilizing.
Once you've made your big list of must-dos, its time to break it down into smaller segments. Maybe on Monday you'll focus on work and laundry, and on Wednesday you'll plan a date night for you and your partner, Friday might be a good time to reschedule those missed appointments for the next week.
If your intention is to push the big red RESET button on your life, reconnect with who you used to be before you got sick, meet the expectations of your friends, family, doctors and yourself -- you have to try.
And making a plan is what trying looks like.
From the blogger that brought you Five Ways You're Not Really "Living" With Chronic Illness read more on tackling the challenges of chronic illness at Let's Feel Better, by Ilana Jacqueline