I have managed to keep a relatively balanced social, romantic, and professional life alongside my chronic illness. Here’s what I’ve learned since receiving my diagnosis.
During my childhood and adolescence, I had what most people would call a “normal experience” as far as my health was concerned. Other than the occasional cold, or a case of annoying seasonal allergies, I was fortunate enough to have gone through each major experience without worrying about getting sick.
Then, in a strange and sudden turn of events just months shy of my 21st birthday, I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease that resulted in varying levels of constant, chronic pain.
With the exception of taking a yearlong medical leave from my full-time job and school due to numerous illness-related hospitalizations, I have managed to keep a relatively balanced social, romantic, and professional life ever since receiving my diagnosis.
Living a full life, maintaining lasting relationships, and remaining productive at work with chronic pain are challenging feats even for someone who is in perfect health, let alone a person dealing with an invisible illness. Here are four ground rules I have created for myself to ensure that I am able to live mine to the fullest without putting myself at risk for a major health crisis.
It’s imperative that I remember to drink lots of water throughout the day, from the moment I wake up to when I lay down at night. It’s often recommended for women, adults 19 years and older, to drink 2.7 liters a day, while adult men should drink 3.7 liters.
Tip: Keep a travel-sized bottle in your bag and find the nearest water fountain everywhere you go.
Having a fully booked itinerary most days, as well as a thriving career and relationship, require a good balance of who, when, and where to disperse my precious energy. That is why I always try to prioritize a full night’s rest in order to truly enjoy the events that I plan on attending. Making time for a full 7 to 9 hours each night goes a long way to not only prevent an even weaker immune system, but also give me a boost of attentiveness for future conversations and gatherings.
Tip: Utilize the night shift mode on your phone and set the bedtime alarm to remind yourself when to wind down every night at a decent time.
Having lived years with chronic pain while managing an active social life has been learning to perfect the art of saying ‘no’ and declining some invitations — again, the FOMO struggle is real! In an ideal and pain-free world, I would love to say ‘yes’ to every happy hour and be at every party.
However, it is imperative to my health to skip some things and leave a little time in the calendar for myself.
Tip: We all need alone time. Activities like yoga, writing, meditating, walking, and going to a coffee shop are ways that I like to practice self-care and decompress in order to keep my chronic pain at bay.
Chronic pain has a way of showing up at the most inconvenient moments. While most social settings don’t allow for much personal space, it’s imperative to find a safe place in an event for a quick escape to regain peace and quiet. Sometimes, it’s the bathroom stall and sometimes, it can be outside of the venue. Wherever it may be, I like to identify my safe place as soon as I arrive.
Tip: Find your safe place whenever you’re going to a big event. This is where you’ll go to take a breather whenever you feel overwhelmed.
Without the right mindset, maintaining a social life through chronic pain can feel like a burden — but it doesn’t have to. I like to embrace the things I cannot change and look at my situation as valuable moments to practice gratitude for what and who I do have in my life.
Sure, an invisible illness is no fun, but learning to follow some ground rules for myself has been the biggest gift I could give myself for choosing to live fully and with no regrets.
Devri Valazquez is a content editor for naturallycurly.com. She’s contributed to beauty and wellness publications including Refinery29, Blavity, Allure, xoJane, and more. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.