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Happy new year! Last year was a strange year for all of us worldwide. With so many things having changed because of the pandemic, things were tough, particularly for those of us trying to manage a chronic illness. Here’s a roundup of what living with chronic pain taught me in 2021 and all the things I plan to do this year.
WHAT LIVING WITH CHRONIC PAIN TAUGHT ME IN 2021
THE BEST LIFE LESSONS 2021 TAUGHT ME
It’s necessary to take breaks & practice self-care
One huge lesson I learnt from chronic pain last year is that it’s okay to take time out for myself and rest.
For so long, I felt like taking breaks, whether it was because of a flare-up or just needing time to myself, meant I was being lazy or wasting time.
But trying to push myself when my body or mind was telling me otherwise was causing more harm than good.
In the last 6 months of 2021, after experiencing total chronic illness burnout, I took breaks and practiced self-care intentionally.
Taking those moments made such an enormous difference to my mental health and how I manage my chronic pain.
I felt so much happier, energised and slowly felt less guilty about making myself my priority.
It’s okay to have bad days
Those of us living with chronic health conditions will totally understand how up and down life can be. 2021 was a rollercoaster, filled with a lot of down days and not so great moments.
One huge lesson chronic pain taught me is, not every day is perfect and that it’s okay (and sometimes necessary) to have those moments.
I didn’t realise that for the past however many years; I didn’t truly understand what I needed or didn’t need to help get me through my toughest times. But thankfully I’m now more aware of my needs.
Those moments, despite the tears, brought me clarity and understanding in a few different ways:
- It’s important to take time out
- To talk about how I’m feeling, only when I feel ready
- How to communicate my needs when things aren’t going so well
It’s okay to set boundaries and say no
I’ve struggled with saying no and setting boundaries for way too long.
One thing 2021 taught me, the hard way is that boundaries are healthy and necessary, especially when you’re trying to tend to your health.
There came a point when I finally said no and set boundaries without feeling guilty or uncomfortable.
I had finally gotten to a place where I was willing to accept that not everyone will welcome the idea of me prioritizing my health and putting myself first.
And I was totally okay with it! Now that’s progress!
Whether it was saying no to going out or making people aware of things I need, to better manage my pain, I did it all, and it felt fucking great!
To take time to rest outside of having a flare-up
One major thing I realised is that outside of having to rest during a flare-up, I wasn’t resting at all.
I was pushing myself even harder when I felt well because I wanted to make use of all flare free time I had.
But doing that meant I still felt super tired, irritable and not my happiest. So mid 2021, I made the conscious effort to schedule ME time, not related to being in pain.
Whether it was taking the time to listen to a podcast, going on a solo date, or going to get my hair and nails done.
This is something I would highly suggest for anyone living with a chronic illness. Take time that isn’t related to your health condition to do something you enjoy.
It’s a good way to remind yourself that your illness doesn’t have to define you.
LIVING WITH CHRONIC PAIN TAUGHT ME THESE THINGS ABOUT MY HEALTH
To make use of everything that can help me manage my pain
Like anything, it’s easy to stick to things that you’re used to or feel most comfortable with. This can apply to pain management, too.
For so long, I’d been using the same methods to manage my pain, and wasn’t taking the time to try anything new.
I joined Instagram in 2021 and discovered the amazing chronic pain and chronic illness community.
I came across so many amazing people with so many conditions and different pain management methods.
Which inspired me to look into different things and try them out for myself. In doing that, I found a few more things to add to my pain management toolbox (outside of medication), or do a little more research into things I’d never tried or heard of before.
That It’s important to continue advocating for myself
As we all know, the pandemic has changed our way of life, in every way, which includes health care.
Due to all that was, and still is going on, it was so difficult to speak to a doctor, get appointments, referrals or general advice.
2021 was the year that things finally opened a little more, but I was still aware and considerate of the amount of pressure doctors and the NHS (UK) were under. But in doing that, I let a little too many things slide.
The second half of this year was hard for me, and my pain was unbearable.
I felt like I had run out of options and because of the pandemic; I felt like I had no right to complain to my doctors when so many people were suffering.
But I had to remember that I was struggling too and that my needs still matter.
I learned that it’s still as important to continue to advocate for myself and communicate exactly what I need with my doctors (even if the response time may be a little longer).
To pay more attention to my pain triggers
Another major lesson chronic pain taught me in 2021 is- I need to pay attention to all things that trigger my flare-ups. Initially, I was only paying attention to my levels of activity and stress.
But early in the year, I noticed other things were also triggering my pain. Such as certain types of foods, like dairy and red meat. I also noticed that a lack of sleep was a major contributor to my pain levels.
Paying more attention to all of my triggers helped me to manage my pain so much better.
LESSONS CHRONIC PAIN TAUGHT ME ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS
To stop focussing on those who don’t support me and cherish the ones that do
I spent so much time and energy annoyed at those that weren’t supportive of me.
It’s so hard having people around, whether friends or family members, that aren’t supportive of all you’re going through.
Holding so much resentment towards those people made me lose sight of the few that were supporting me.
Living with chronic pain taught me how important it is to cherish the people that I can lean on and stop giving so much power to those that don’t.
I’ve realised how fortunate I actually am. As not everyone with chronic pain, or those going through a rough time, has a support system.
It’s not my job to make people care
One of the biggest lessons living with chronic pain taught me in 2021 is that it’s not my job to make people understand or care about what I’m going through.
For a while, I felt it was so important to drum it into people’s heads that I’m genuinely in pain and somehow try to force them to care.
Over time, that drained my energy and brought about so much disappointment and resentment towards those who didn’t want to listen.
I decided enough was enough.
I’ve learnt that you can’t force people to understand or care if they don’t want to. I distanced myself from certain people to protect my peace.
It was tough at first. But by the end of the year, I felt less stressed and a lot happier.
To connect more with the chronic illness community
As I previously mentioned, I finally took the plunge in 2021 and started my Instagram account.
I was hesitating for so long because, to be honest, I’m an introvert and find it hard to meet new people. But also, because being the ‘face’ of my blog was never my goal, it scared the hell out of me!
Once I joined Instagram, I came across so many amazing people in the chronic illness community and made so many great connections.
2021 Taught me how important it is to be amongst those you can relate to, whether it’s online or in person.
I received so much support, which felt amazing, but I felt even better supporting those going through similar things to me.
CAREER LESSONS I LEARNT BECAUSE OF CHRONIC PAIN
Although I’ve been self-employed for a while now, having worked in a traditional office setting for so long, it took a while to accept my new way of working.
I had to change the way I viewed working and to accept that it’s okay to go against the traditional route.
I truly learnt how important it is to adapt how I work that suit me and the way I manage my pain.
Here are the few of things I have to introduce or tweak:
- Adapt my working hours to avoid burnout- no more traditional 9-5!
- Schedule consistent breaks each day and practice self-care.
- Be honest with myself and shut shop if I could feel my pain flaring up.
- I was honest with those I work with about my chronic pain and what we can do to make partnering successful.
- Stopped putting so much pressure on myself and accepted that it’s okay to put things on pause.
- Not cramming too much work into one day.
MY PLANS TO MAKE 2022 A BETTER YEAR
We’re still in the first week of 2022, so I’m sure as the year goes by, my plans and goals will change.
For now, here are some things I plan to do this year to take charge of my health, lifestyle and happiness.
- Take more time to do things I enjoy
- Find a healthy balance between life, work and chronic pain
- Make healthier choices and have healthier habits
- Take each day as it comes and take more breaks
- Be intentional and communicate what I want from life–career, relationships and health
- Continue to advocate for myself and others living with chronic pain and chronic health conditions
- Connect with more people within the chronic illness community and show them more support
WISHING YOU A HAPPY AND HEALTHY 2022!
Living with chronic pain or any chronic condition is never easy.
Most people look at the new year as a time to reset and start from scratch, but for those of us living with a chronic illness, it’s not that easy.
New year, new me just doesn’t apply to us.
But I believe we can make changes, no matter how small, to better manage our health. Which we can do by taking lessons not only from the previous year but from previous moments.
So I not only wish you a happy new year but a happy and healthy tomorrow! xx
I’d love to know the biggest lesson chronic pain/chronic illness taught you in 2021? Drop it in the comments below.
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