By Jenni Grover.
You know how, when you’re in a flare-up and your pain is worse than usual, you feel like everything just sucks? Like nothing feels good? Like nobody understands?
Yeah, I thought so. We have that in common. Flare-ups are so hard.
For a long time, I thought flare-ups were the darkest times—that I could not experience any happiness during a flare-up. But I’ve learned that it’s possible find joy even when I’m struggling physically.
In no particular order, here is a list of things I do to find joy on the hardest days:
Make something: Some days this is harder than others; pain in my hands can be limiting. But when I can, I make something. Maybe I send a handwritten note to a friend, or I sew some blocks for a quilt, or cook a simple dinner. Making things helps me feel like I’m accomplishing something on days that otherwise feel worthless.
Laugh: Silliness is a balm for me, a way to distract myself from difficult emotions during flare-ups. I like to talk on the phone with faraway friends, joking about our lives. I love to make my husband crack up, which often involves me making weird body humor jokes. I keep a list of comedies queued up on Netflix, and I have some go-to Instagram accounts that make me giggle.
Play with kids: Speaking of laughter, my best friend’s kiddos crack me up all the time. It’s a privilege to get to hang out with kids (I don’t have any of my own) and I always end up being silly with them.
Meditate: When I meditate, I feel more grounded—I don’t feel as afraid of the pain I’m experiencing. So I meditate daily, and I weave mindfulness practice into my daily life. There’s a quiet joy in feeling not afraid.
Listen to music: My playlists on Spotify are curated for moods: “Get Sweaty” is for workouts, “Goddess Maximus” is about strong women, “Feeling Lustrous and Luscious” is for when I want to feel sexy, “Write the Book” is for reminding myself I can still work. (You can listen to my playlists, too! Find me on Spotify: ChronicBabe.)
Connect with others: I text a handful of friends every day, no matter what, and that reduces feelings of isolation during flare-ups. I have a few friends who will Skype with me from far away, and the occasional phone call is lovely. Pain is isolating; keeping your friends close is essential to staying joyful.
Enjoy the outdoors: If I’m able, I take a walk outside, and try to focus on observing nature. If I’m unable (either because of my pain, or because I live in Chicago and HELLO! Winter!), I sit by a window and observe the outside. The experience of seeing a flower in bloom or hearing birdsong is soothing.
Eat something delicious: If I can’t cook, I’ll order in a favorite (spicy tuna roll from my favorite sushi place). Sometimes, my husband will cook for us. And I keep healthy snacks, especially fruit, on the kitchen counter. Eating mindfully—savoring the smells, colors, and tastes—makes me so happy.
Help others: Even if most of the day is a disaster, I spend a little time on social media or blogging for my ChronicBabe website because I know it helps others. Through writing things (like this!) I’m able to make meaning out of my chronic pain and illness experience.
Bathe: Taking a bath is a lovely thing. When I’m flared-up, it can feel like a chore, but when I take a shower or bath, I always feel so much happier. Who wants to be stinky all day in addition to their pain and other symptoms? If you need to, get a shower chair. Indulge in a fizzy bath bomb or a fragrant soap. Play some music, light a candle, throw your towel over the radiator so it’s warm when you get out of the tub—make it lovely.
Jenni Grover is founder of ChronicBabe and U.S. Pain Foundation Ambassador – Illinois.