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Five Ways to Support Yourself When You’re Battling an Invisible Illness

Updated: Jan 1, 2021

After my attack, I had plenty of support from friends and family, but as my symptoms lingered and the doctors’ diagnoses kept chalking the pain and vision issues to something “all in my head,” (see last week’s column) that support began to wane. If nothing was found to be wrong with me, then maybe I was being whiny, or exaggerating. I think, too, that your support circle gets tired of always being your cheerleader, especially when there is nothing outwardly “wrong” with you.

My symptoms were, yes, all in my head, in the form of debilitating migraines and serious vision issues. I went to so many doctors, my charts alone could be a book. As the months and years went by and I still didn’t have an answer, I began to slip into depression and withdraw from my life.

There are plenty of articles out there on how you can support someone else who has an invisible illness. But what if you’re the one suffering? How do you support yourself? If you’re like me, you’re better at caring for others than yourself, and when you put yourself last on the list, it can have a huge negative impact on your recovery.

  1. Don’t Try to Do Too Much: All I wanted to do was get back to normal. I returned to work too soon, and tried to drop right back into the life I had before the attack. I didn’t take time to process what had happened to me, or to get to the root of the medical issues I was having. I overdid it time and again, and that only made things worse.

  2. This is Not Failure: When I had to call out of work, beg off from seeing my friends, or spend days in a darkened room because the migraines were so bad, I felt like a loser. I was in my twenties—life was supposed to be fun, not a constant roller coaster of pain. Because of what happened to me, I also had to rethink the career I had dreamed of all my life. For many days, I felt like a failure. I had to turn that around and into: I am a survivor. My life was going to be different, but I was going to rock this new life just like I intended to rock the one I had before this happened to me.

  3. Make Tasks Manageable: If mornings are difficult for you, and you have a hard time getting going, then break all those steps into smaller, more manageable tasks. Maybe you put your coffeepot on a timer so it’s ready and is one less thing to do. Fill the mug with creamer and set it in the fridge, so all you have to do is pour and go. Look at areas where you can lessen your own load. Also, don’t look at the whole task—when you climb stairs, it’s one step at a time. When you have a big chore or job in front of you, look at one step at a time, so you don’t get overwhelmed.

  4. Give Yourself Small Kindnesses: The more you can give yourself grace and compassion, the easier the journey will be. Do a few minutes of yoga. Buy yourself flowers. Take a short walk around the neighborhood. The small things add up to self-care and self-love

  5. Spread Kindness to Others: One of the best ways to get out of your own funk is to focus on other people. Call up a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Drop off a card to a relative. Start an online group for people going through what you are, or join one and offer support to a member.

The most important person you have to take care of is yourself. Give your heart time to grieve the change in your life, and give yourself a lot of slack, instead of pressure. Things are different, yes, but every single day can still be amazing.

Read an excerpt from my book, You’ve Got Some Nerve: The Battle Back from an Invisible Injury next week or order your copy here!

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