Chronic Illness: Lifestyle Changes Are Inevitable

Life is a guessing game. Each morning, I wake up and wonder if my fingers will be stiff from rheumatoid arthritis inflammation or whether my legs will be burning from an eczema flare-up. Did last night’s dinner from a restaurant sit OK, or will the nausea, joint pain, and fatigue from accidental gluten cross-contamination and celiac disease interrupt my day too?

My New Reality Is Confusing

Living with chronic illness means ebbing and flowing, accepting minute-by-minute lifestyle changes. I often joke with my friends about always being the “Maybe” reply on RSVPs and the need to reschedule my day to conserve energy for an evening out. Sometimes it feels like chronic illness is a full-time job.

When I meet new people, they have no idea what lurks inside my body. A faulty immune system has spurred multiple ongoing health conditions that require daily consideration. I follow a specialized diet, need exercise to reduce medical symptoms, and get very ill if I skimp on sleep. When someone inevitably makes the “But you don’t look sick” comment, I usually joke that they must not have their X-ray vision turned on. They can’t see my immune system attacking healthy tissue or the inflammation pooling in my joints. I understand it’s confusing. What you can’t see is hard to grasp. It was hard for me to grasp too.

The Mental Strain of Chronic Illness

It’s common to have an emotional reaction to a chronic illness diagnosis. Between the loss of specific body functions and a sense of self, sometimes we need outside assistance to cope with the lifestyle changes we must make.

Being forced to make very calculated health decisions every single day gets tiring. I can’t just grab lunch with a friend without researching the menu first and following up with a string of questions at the restaurant. I can’t book my work tasks back-to-back or I’ll get overly stiff sitting at my desk. I both love and need to get to the gym daily if I want to stay mobile.

Always keeping my health conditions top of mind is mentally fatiguing. Everything is scheduled and planned carefully. I miss the days of doing things off-the-cuff, like grabbing a deep-fried something at the county fair or staying up super late for a movie marathon without worrying about whether I’ll get sick from overexerting myself.

My Keys to Emotional Wellness

Since my first autoimmune disease diagnosis in 2009, I’ve found comfort in swimming and meditation. Being in the pool, cutting through the water like a seal, instantly helps me feel centered. All noise is muffled, and I can focus on breathing to move forward and survive. The same principle is true with meditation and deep-rooted yoga practices, the newest partners in my health journey.

There are yoga institutes now offering yoga teacher training and classes customized for people with chronic health conditions. They work with modified movements and mediation practices to assist people living with emotional or physical pain. I attend a yoga class in my community created for people with autoimmune conditions, and I find my stress is significantly reduced after each session. Purposely engaging in activities that bring awareness to the present moment (and away from worry about the future of my health) has been life changing. It helps me cope with daily health issues on both a physical and emotional level.

I’ve learned to accept these lifestyle changes because I know they’re for the greater good. They may be challenging or time-consuming, but they improve my overall well-being.

The other day, my husband said, “I hope you wake up tomorrow and feel amazing.” Me too, sweetie. Me too.