Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Strategies for Surviving Celebrations (and Daily Life) with Chronic Illness

Chronic Christmas isn’t just for the holidays.

Why am I banging on about that book again and well into January? There’s a very good reason. Namely that the strategies I described in Chronic Christmas: Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic Illness can be used throughout the year to help you tackle tasks and celebrations with enough energy left over to enjoy your life.

We all have energy-sucking events and tasks in our lives. They can range from doing routine household chores to planning a big celebration, such as a family party or a wedding. When you have a chronic illness, approaching any of them can feel overwhelming. Where do you start? Will you have enough energy to see the task through? It’s enough to make anyone hide under the covers.
But you don’t have to. That is, you can hide under the covers if you wish, but that doesn’t get anything done. And more importantly, it keeps you from enjoying life. So why not take a look at the Chronic Christmas tips and strategies for getting from the start to the finish line with your sense of humour and energy intact?

Here are three examples of Chronic Christmas strategies:

Pace yourself
Pacing yourself helps you approach the task of your choice with a sense of mindfulness. By not going full throttle, you give yourself the space to be aware of your energy levels and the permission to stop for the day before you’re exhausted. And that in return makes it possible for you to get back to the task tomorrow. Surprisingly, this will actually enable you to get more accomplished in the long run.

It sounds great in theory, but when you’re in the middle of something big the panic can persuade you that the only way to do it all is to go full throttle. You may get a lot accomplished that first day and maybe even the second, but after that overdoing it will have you crashed out on the couch for just as long or longer. Staying within your energy limits will ensure that you won’t have to spend days and even weeks healing.

Break it down
Whether it’s facing preparing for the holidays, the table plan for your wedding, or a sink full of dishes, the same basic principle applies: break it down into smaller tasks.

Take a step back and think about how you can parse the really big task into smaller bite-sized pieces that can be accomplished in about 10 minutes. If you’re so far into the overwhelm that you can’t see straight, try to imagine helping someone else do it. Or ask that someone who’s been offering to help you to break it down for you. Then just do what they tell you. Approach it for 10 minutes every day and before you know it, the task will be done.

Ask for help
And while we’re talking about asking for help… Please do. Chances are that there are several people in your circle of family and friends who have offered to help and chances are equally good that you haven’t accepted that help. When you live with chronic illness, can be really difficult and exhausting to figure out which tasks other people can do. On top of that, it can be an emotional challenge to accept the fact that you do need help.

As with anything else, start small. Ask a visitor to take the garbage to the chute, help you decorate a corner of the living room, or address and stamp a pile of invitations while you chat.

That wasn’t too bad, was it?

Then try again, and this time ask for somewhat bigger task. Distributing tasks among several people will make it easier for you to ask for help and make sure that none of the people assisting you suffer burnout.

Facing a big task can feel completely overwhelming. The nature of the task doesn’t matter — if you’re having a really bad day, folding the laundry can be a big task. What’s important is matching your energy level with what you do. Following the strategies outlined in this post, as well as the many other ideas in Chronic Christmas: Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic Illness, can help you tackle anything you have to do.

How do you approach big tasks when you feel like crap?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

4 Techniques to Quit Smoking for Good

One common New Year's resolution is to quit smoking. If you've made a promise to yourself and your family to kick the habit, my new post for Mango Health could be just  what you need to quit and quit for good:

"I smoked my first cigarette at 17. It made me feel nauseated, so I’m not sure why I had a second one, but I did — and that was the start of my addiction. 

I’ve since quit twice. The first time, I lasted four years before the siren song of nicotine lured me back. It took a long time before I gathered the courage to stop again. It wasn’t just that I was afraid to quit; I didn’t quit because, the truth is, I liked smoking. Let’s face it: if we didn’t like smoking, we wouldn’t waste money on a product that’s lit on fire and burned to a pile of ash multiple times a day."

You can read the story of how I finally quit and four techniques that can help you stop smoking on the Mango Health blog.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Chronic Christmas and the e-book Cover Design Awards

There are many reasons I love Chronic Christmas. Working on it help me find my writing mojo again, I had a lot of fun  with it, both to creating it and talking to others about it in the months leading up to the holidays.

I also very much love to cover. When Aimee Coveney of Other Design Solutions sent the first draft to me, I found myself saying "I love it!" out loud even though there were no one else in the room. Well, except for Lucy, but she was sleeping at the time. wwith only one minor change, that first draft was the final draft

So naturally I submitted it to The Book Designer's e-book Cover Design Awards for the month of December 2016. And it got a gold star! That means it was "considered for the award or ... stood out in some exemplary way."

And this is just one more reason to love my little book.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Let’s Talk: Arthritis and Mental Health and Well-Being

People who live with arthritis experience anxiety and depression at a higher rate than the general population.[1] I am one of those people, both in terms of the arthritis and the mental health issues.

Over my 50-year “career” with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) I have spent a lot of time feeling depressed. Like the 30% of the people with RA who are depressed, I have also thought of suicide. Living with high levels of chronic pain and progressive disability can really do a number on your head.

I am happy to say that I haven’t been depressed in a really long time. In fact, I’ve been feeling really good from a mental health perspective. And then there was that sidetrack of a medical adventure last Spring that is now reacquainting me with anxiety and has introduced me to life with PTSD. It’s always something…

Mental health and physical health cannot be separated. They exist together and it is important to pay attention to both of them, especially when you live with a chronic illness like arthritis. Today is Bell Let’s Talk day, which was created to break the silence around mental illness and to support mental health across Canada. And it’s the perfect time to talk about arthritis and mental health. 

Arthritis and Mental Health and Well-Being 

The Arthritis Society has just launched a new online course called Arthritis and Mental Health and Well-Being, which aims to minimize the impact of arthritis on mental health. And it is open to everyone, not just Canadians! Earlier this week, I spoke to Deanna Bowlby, Senior Manager of Education at the Arthritis Society about the module.

“More research is showing that emotional and mental health is connected to the process of your disease,” Deanna said. She also told me about the patient empowerment survey done by The Arthritis Society last year showing that mental health, depression, and anxiety are very much a concern for people who live with arthritis. Moreover, it is often overlooked.

As more and more individuals with chronic illness become empowered, the focus has increasingly shifted to self-management of the diseases with which we live. This online course is another tool that focuses on helping people self-manage their disease. 

Arthritis and Mental Health and Well-Being takes you through several chapters dealing with mental health and how it is impacted by a chronic illness. There is a specific focus on information about how living with arthritis can affect your mood, sometimes significantly, and what you can do to manage your mental well-being. Additionally, there is information about when to seek help.

“When you live with chronic illness, you have your own toolkit or resources to manage the disease. We hope that this can become part of your toolkit,” Deanna told me. The Arthritis Society believes that is important for people with chronic illness to “know that if feelings are real and valid and they are not alone help is available,” she said.

I went through the course myself and was very impressed with the quality of information, and the approach to teaching self-management of mental health. I believe this can be tremendously helpful to people living with arthritis and other forms of chronic illness.

Nurturing your mental health will help you be able to think, feel, and act in ways that enhance the enjoyment of your life, as well as assist you in dealing with the challenges of life with chronic illness. I believe that Arthritis and Mental Health and Well-Being can be an important tool in improving your ability to cope.

[1] Arthritis Community Research and Evaluation Unit (ACREU), Arthritis in Canada (prepared for The Arthritis Society, 2013)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Photo Friday: Path

I've been taking part in the Fat Mum Slim January photo challenge and particularly liked this one from the 14th. Follow my almost-daily photos on my Instagram account and Facebook page.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

6 Tips on How to Have a Chronic Illness on Social Media

Are you on social media? Of course you’re on social media; everyone is these days. But if you have a chronic illness, be careful not to post photos of you spending time with people you like, or even smiling. If you do, it could get your disability claim rejected.

Kayla Barry knows this firsthand. A few weeks ago, she shared the rejection letter for her disability claim. In it, the doctor assessing the claim stated that the photos shared on her Twitter account showed a “young woman who is engaged in life activities, awake, smiling and also do not appear to depict an individual who looks chronically ill.”

Cue all of us having a meltdown. About the fact that the doctor does not appear to be aware of the concept of invisible illness, which is odd considering he was evaluating the disability claim for Barry’s fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, neither hardly visible. About the insanity of the doctor not realizing that we share our best moments on social media. And I could go on, but it’s not the point of today’s post.

My point today is to share some tips on what you can do to avoid being in the same situation.

Remember social media is public
This might sound ridiculously obvious, but the fact is that being on social media can feel very intimate. It’s just you and your phone or computer and some friends Liking your posts or leaving a comment. But what you do and say online is visible to all and yes, that even goes for your private Facebook account. If you don’t want the world to know about your private life, don’t go on the Internet. If you do, think of it this way: assume everything is public and don’t post anything you wouldn’t say in a large room full of strangers.

Assume you will be investigated
More and more, companies are checking the social media accounts of job applicants, and it appears the same goes for disability claimants. Check out that photo on Kayla Barry’s blog again. That doctor answered a particular question regarding social media accounts on the form they used for their assessment. That means it’s a standard part of investigating a disability claim.

Decide to be out or not
Make a decision about whether you will be “out” online about your chronic illness. There are good reasons not to be — perhaps you don’t want your employer or community to know, or perhaps you want a place where you can be on a sort of vacation from having an illness. On the other hand, being open about your chronic illness can be really helpful in terms of connecting you with people who can support you through it. Weigh the pros and cons and assess your risk of for instance, losing your job, and do what feels right to you.

Show the reality of chronic illness
If you are open about having a chronic illness in your online journey, show the totality of your life. There is much that is wonderful and you should absolutely show that, whether it’s big events like getting married or having a child, or the small moments of going out with friends. But also show the bad days or the consequences of going out, such as having to rest for a couple of days.

Get help with your disability claim
Most disability claims are rejected on the first go around, but you can increase the chance of being accepted. Involve an advocate or lawyer in your case to make sure that all the documentation is correct and the forms are filled out correctly. DisabilitySecrets is a great site with lots of information on how to maximize success when applying for disability in the US. It also has links to advocates in every state that can help you with your application.

Live your life
At the end of the day, you have to live your life in a way that feels authentic to you and that includes your social media presence. Be yourself, enjoy your life, post what you want to post. Because here’s the thing. As my parents told me a long time ago, I have a choice about where I spend this life with chronic illness: I can laugh or I can cry. It would be one hell of a waste of life if I spent it only crying out of fear that someday someone would have the profound stupidity to judge me only on my smiles.