It seems that there are more and more people in my far flung network of friends and acquaintances who are coming to grips with chronic illness in their lives of. Part of this is probably because my peers are aging and what used to be a young person’s physical weakness has settled into a middle aged chronic health problem. However, I am confident that some of this trend is a reflection of increasing Environmental Illness that we see happening across all populations regardless of age, ethnicity, gender or location. I am sometimes asked for advice, not because I have any real medical insight, but because I have lived with a chronic illness for almost half my life. I feel that my response is somewhat lacking the power that new patients are looking for because my advice is always so boringly practical. It comes down to this…
Do what everyone should be doing, but with greater intent. Food, exercise, rest and your own version of spirituality.
My sister (an excellent sibling, blogger, and human being) and I were asked to give some advice to a young woman with an inflammatory rheumatic disease. She is of that age where we all feel a bit immortal; old enough to be independent, young enough to have expectations of wonderful physical resiliency. It’s a particularly difficult age to be dealing with a chronic illness because the lifestyle changes are felt so keenly. So we tried to keep our suggestions manageable and informed with common sense. We then decided that the results should be shared with a larger community for comments, additions, and further refinement. That’s you, by the way.
Advice to Our Chronically Ill Friends,
Begin with a core attitude adjustment about your body: what it owes you and what you owe it. If you want it to go places and do things like other peoples bodies do, you have to treat it as if it is the finest equipment available, which it is. You have to avoid thinking of your body as a traitor and think instead about what it needs. Collaborate with your body and care for your body just as you would a valued partner.
Accept that your body and your life now work on a different timetable. Nothing will get figured out or fixed or recovered quickly. So take your time when trying new treatments or activities, do them one at a time so you can witness their effects on the body. Keep a health journal to make connections, track long term changes, and have a place to put everything down on paper instead of attempting to keep it all in your head. Review it once a week and then walk away from it, rather than worry about it all the time.
Eat simply; veggies, protein, and good fats. Your food does not have to be bland or boring, but developing a core diet that does not have additives, preservatives, rich sauces, or high fructose corn syrup is critical. Food must be fuel for your body not an extra thing your body has to be detoxing, combating, or counteracting. If you can do this most of the time, then that second glass of wine once a week might become manageable because your body hasn’t been overwhelmed with it all week.
Think of supplements as a way to fill in what your body is not getting from food rather than reactive treatment. Take fewer but higher quality ones. Ideally, your supplements should be physician or nutritionist recommended in response to some lab testing, especially if you are doing prescription medicines. We think the money spent on a doctor, testing, and higher quality products will more than pay for itself in a personalized protocol that will truly provide more bang for your buck. Here’s a list of our “musts” and why:
Probiotics for gut and skin health
Fish oils for anti-inflammatory support and hormone balancing
Vit C for immune boost and adrenal support
Vit B for energy
Calcium and magnesium for muscle function and more
Move your body often and find a way to make that joyful rather than a chore. Maybe that means variety or maybe it means sticking with one thing til you are an expert. Maybe it’s just you outside or maybe it’s classes with other people. For those of us with inflammation problems, stretching and strengthening is more important than cardio I think; yoga, pilates, swimming, small weights. Once you’re moving well, the resting part becomes so much easier. Develop a routine that allows your body complete and satisfying sleep.
Think of complimentary medicine as just that, a compliment to the basics of food, exercise, and rest. Homeopathy, touch, or energy therapies may be useful. Homeopathy has a long and successful history, especially in Europe. While it does not do very well for acute problems (that’s where Western medicine shines), it is a wonderful tool for chronic ones. It can provide support and navigation for long term body issues, a way to keep nudging your body to a better path. Similarly, touch therapies may not be essential but they do help a lot of chronically ill people. Each modality has its specific purpose but we think that there is just as much benefit in a loving touch and in the intention of focusing solely on the body’s needs for a set time. Both homeopathy and touch therapies are only as good as the practitioner, so it’s best to shop around a lot.
All of us, regardless of our health, need time for reflection. That may be meditation, prayer, church services, or a quiet walk but it is important to find some way to transcend the physical for a while. While you are creating spiritual connections to sustain yourself, you also have to connect with other people for practical help. And don’t worry, you will find ways to reciprocate so that these relationships do not feel one-sided. Create a network of friends and family who support your life and create a network of go-to caregivers who truly give care. None of us can do this alone, including the non-existent perfectly healthy person.
Our last bit of advice is this: focus on just one of the above points –food, exercise, rest, support or spirituality–with an intent to deepen and broaden the practicality we’ve suggested. No one can do everything all at once, but everyone can make subtle shifts that have profound results. We wish you all the best with your health journey and we hope our sisterly advice helps you to take those first steps.