How to Support Your Body When Your Body Can’t Support You
5 ways to fortify on a bad day with chronic illness
I am just crawling out of a few days of hell.
I’ve been in a painful, existential soup of chronic illness, just barely getting through each day. My body and mind seem opposed to life. They’re reacting strongly to something in my environment: maybe my own, inner, endogenous environment, this environment of my blood, muscles, and organs; or to the outer environment, meaning the air I breathe, food I eat, and water I drink. I need medication, and my body then has to keep up with the swings of the medication. All medicine is an abstraction; all pharmaceuticals have side effects. And most of the medicines that treat autoimmune conditions are volatile: insulin, steroids, antibiotics (a word that literally means “against life”), even immunosuppressants. These medicines can often feel like the cure is worse than the disease. Sometimes it truly is.
A body has to find a way to stabilize during the turbulence of illness. One bad day can stretch into many; without support and care, a down day can turn into a down week, or longer. It can be especially hard sometimes to know what kind of support your body needs, but since you and your body are in this together, it can be a comfort to know that you can, indeed, support your body during troubled times. After 10 years of living with chronic illness, here are five of my most trusted ways of fortifying my body to help shorten sick days.
1. 70% of your Body
You know this one already: water. Drink it, get it in, or splash it on your body. Stay hydrated, take a bath, put a cool compress on your eyes or a warm compress on your belly. Give yourself a steam facial. Drink bubbly water and pretend it’s champagne. Unless your skin is irritated by excess moisture (in which case, jump to point #2), water can soothe the inflammation you’re likely experiencing. Treat your body like the walking column of ocean water that it is: replenish, rehydrate, refill!
2. Not Just for Cooking and Sex
Speaking of skin, love that skin up with your favorite oils — my favorites are coconut and (only sometimes because it’s expensive) emu. Fats are great for the skin and for hormone production; and chances are, if you’re dealing with chronic illness, you’ve got some kind of hormone issue. Giving yourself a massage — on any portion of the body, large or small — will send a message of safety and support to your body, and to your mind. This could be something quick, like 5 minutes on the face or hands, or a good long self-massage after your bath or shower.
3. Spend time with your Earth Mother
You can be outdoors or indoors, with pets or plants. A breath of fresh air is powerful. Feel how the sun shines on your skin. Recent fascinating research shows that Grounding — just placing our bare feet on the earth — improves inflammation markers and immune response. I aim for 5 barefoot minutes outside per day, or I use my Earthing Mat in bed or at my desk. If you have pets, snuggle them up; if you have plants, share a glass of water with them, and maybe even dig your hands around in that dirt and repot a few. You’ll both feel refreshed!
4. Gentle Movement
The gentlest. My favorites are long or short walks, even better if they’re barefoot on the grass or beach. I also love gentle stretching on a yoga mat — on my sick days, I wouldn’t even call what I do yoga. I just get on the floor and stretch, roll around, whatever feels good in my body rather than fighting with my body. I also love to put on some favorite healing music during my easy stretch sessions, and let it feel kind of like a spa treatment. I also love easy and gentle rebounding on my mini-trampoline.
5. A Simple Shift
Give yourself permission to be sick, to be less productive, to not be your best self. The sooner you can allow the sick day to begin, the sooner you’ll start to feel better. Psychologically, when you’re sick, your body doesn’t need the additional inflammation of the inner tyrant. Be your own loving authority figure, keep an early bedtime, and talk to yourself with kindness.
If you’re going through illness right now, especially a bad flare-up or autoimmune episode, know that I have so much compassion for where you are; I’ve been there, often. After ten years of living in a body with limitations, one of my points of pride is simply being able to identify when I’m having a sick day, and respond with support and care. With illness, sometimes the body is so burdened that it cannot support you and the weight of normal life. In those moments, it’s possible to support your body when it can’t support you. A few simple actions, like hydrating or oiling, Earthing or stretching, and giving yourself the gift of permission, could help your body get back to what it does best: supporting you!
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