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2020 was a huge struggle for everyone physically, mentally and emotionally. For me, 2020 was not only challenging due to being in a pandemic, but I was also hit with the diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. The diagnosis was bittersweet as I was happy that I finally had answers as to why I was in a lot of pain, but in the same breath, I was angry and upset. The doctors believe that it was due to the accident I had at work, which is as separate issue; however, a lot of anger and resentment stemmed from that.
I remember leaving the hospital and thinking, ‘what the hell do I do now?’ I had several days at home being upset and then I started to do my research and tried to learn as much as I could about Fibromyalgia and I am still learning. A lot of the websites and information spoke about the importance of a positive mind set and healthy mental health habits. When I am in constant pain and exhausted due to lack of sleep, I do think about how I can feel anything but down and upset. It’s okay not to feel positive and happy all the time; however, what is important is to acknowledge a bad day and then start fresh the next day. I have made the conscious decision that I am not going to let Fibromyalgia rule my life or my mental health. Even though I have this condition, I am still me.
There are a lot of different ways to look after your mental health and I am going to share my coping mechanisms and hope that they help you if you are struggling to look after your mental health when living with a chronic illness:
Putting pen to paper every evening has been a great way to check in with my mental health. Each evening, I write about my day; I write down what I have achieved, what I am grateful for and where I could have made better choices. This reflection allows me to highlight positive actions and I can focus on them rather than the negative aspects from my day. Every small win is still a win!
When I have a bad health day, whether that be physical, mental or both, writing in my journal is therapeutic and I am able to write down any negative thoughts and feelings. When I have written them down, I can address them and work through them individually or discuss what I have written with my loved ones.
Being able to look back at my bad days in my journal, acts as a great reminder that bad days do not last forever. I decided to journal in the evenings, so that I can finish my day on a positive task and this helps me to clean my mind before I get into bed.
I use affirmations in the morning; I write a couple of affirmations that I feel would be appropriate for that day. Talking positively about my life lifts my mood and enables me to work on my self-esteem. It is something that takes time, but alongside journaling, this practice really helps me to keep in a positive mind set and makes me look for the positive aspects or where I can say that is a win for me today.
3. Creating A Structure
During lockdown, my daily structure was disrupted and when I received my diagnosis, my life became disorganised. My days would consist of limited or no sleep, lying around when I was having a bad day. However, since implementing a firm structure to my day, I have started to notice improvements. Trying to have a better sleep routine to help with my tiredness and forcing myself to get dressed and aim to do at least 3 tasks every day. Every day is different and the key I have found to helping care for my mental health is not getting frustrated with myself if I didn’t get anything done that day; or even if I only managed to get washed and dressed that day.
4. Speak To Someone Every Day
Staying in communication with family members and friends is really helpful because I have the support of my loved ones. If I have a bad day with my symptoms and I am feeling low, they do a great job of cheering me up; this could be via text or video call; it reminds me that I am not alone in this journey. Just knowing that they are there makes me feel that I am strong enough to keep a healthy mind set and look after my mental health.
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5. Trying To Be Kind To Myself
I was always guilty of being unkind to myself; I would get frustrated with myself if I didn’t finish my ‘to do’ list, or if I had a nap and ‘wasted’ part of the day. Now I am learning to be kinder to myself and beginning to acknowledge that sometimes my body will let me down as it no longer as it once was. Being hard on myself and talking down to myself only made me feel worse, so focusing on what I do achieve each day makes me feel good about myself and helps me deal with the pain that I have.
6. Resting When I Need To
Before my diagnosis, I was always so busy! I never sat still, but now I am having to adjust to a different pace of life, which I have found very difficult. I have been practising resting when I feel tired and it helps me to rationalise and deal with pain. I am aware of the impact of lack of rest and sleep as I experienced a lot of upset when I was tired because the pain felt unbearable at times.
7. Practising Self-Care
Self-care for me is more important now than before my diagnosis. I regularly schedule in time for activities that I enjoy. I love being creative and it makes me happy which improves my mental health. Creating mental health habits like writing in my journal also helps me appreciate what I do have. Looking after me has now got to be something I focus on to keep a healthy, balanced mindset.
Not every day is a good day and I am having to take every day as it comes. However, at the end of each day, I get stronger because I am living my life, but just differently to how I thought it would be. Fortunately, I am still me and this illness will not break me. I hope these tips help you or your loved one dealing with living with a chronic illness.