Flare ups, they can mean so many different things to different people. But for the most part, flare ups mean that someone with a chronic illness is experiencing a (hopefully) short term worsening in their symptoms. For some with a chronic illness their symptoms will be consistently bad, for some they will be consistently not too bad and for some they will be on a constant rollercoaster of ups and downs.
My experience is pretty rollercoaster-esque and has been this way for years. A friend of mine once said ‘it really is soaring highs and crashing lows with you’ and that is exactly how it feels. I just have to cross my fingers that the soaring highs come at the times when I have fun places to go, holidays to make and shit to get done and that the lows come when I don’t have plans, gig tickets booked or holidays to make the most of.
Ah, if only life were like that!
As someone who has been unwell for some time, I have a fair few techniques for coping with flare ups. I’ve talked about pain before, but flare ups for me can mean pain, fatigue, sickness, stomach cramps, brain fog, noise sensitivity, extremes of temperature, fainting spells and losing my appetite.
Here are some of my random ways of dealing with these symptoms:
Be honest with your doctor.
This can be more difficult that it sounds. You could be scared of what your symptoms mean, you could worry about not being believed, perhaps they’ll tell you to stop working or that you can’t go away to university. It’s ok to get nervous about hospital and doctor appointments even if you’ve been unwell for years (I still get nervous and forget what I wanted to say).
Consider taking a list into appointments.
Also, take someone you trust into the appointment with you and before you go in discuss what you want to say and whether you want them to speak. Often I’ll forget things and my mam can prompt me but other times I might ask her to just sit in the waiting room.
Some would say not to overthink appointments afterwards, but I like to talk everything over with my ma – usually over cake – and make sure that I’ve understood everything. Sometimes when we’re stressed we might mishear or misunderstand things, so talking it over can be helpful.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, reiterate your point and say no to things. Yes doctors are well trained, usually want the best for you and are most of the time amazing. But they are only human. There have been a few occasions where I’ve questioned things, asked for second opinions and even refused certain tests because I just got tired of lots of tests that didn’t seem to be leading anywhere. It’s your body and your health, so don’t be afraid to speak up, but always always be respectful because they’re busy and stressed and probably trying their best to help.
Rest when you need to.
It’s not nice, but sometimes you just have to give in. Some days I get home from work, get into bed, get out of bed for dinner and then go back again. Don’t feel guilty, don’t worry about it, put the worries about your social life and career on the back burner and just get into bed and don’t worry. Hopefully it won’t last long and even if it does, it’s not your fault.
Find foods you can manage no matter how awful you feel.
For me, I rely on Diet Coke, ginger gluten free biscuits and dry gluten free toast. I have stomach problems and a thyroid problem that sometimes saps my appetite. The problem of course is that without food, your energy levels will be even lower. It can take time, but find some foods that you can manage even when you’re ill and that give you an energy boost and don’t ever worry about people thinking its weird or judging you.
Flare ups aren’t the time for clean eating, they’re the time for getting through!
Have someone to talk to.
A lot of us know that mental health is important, but sometimes that part of ourselves can be forgotten amongst physical symptoms. Take care of your emotions by finding someone you can talk to. My mam has been there at every hospital appointment and through every stage of my illness and so she’s the person I rely on the most. I also have amazing friends who get it when I have to cancel last minute. Talking about being unwell can be hard, particularly if you worry that people might judge you, but it is worth it most of the time.
Save some holidays.
A few weeks ago I could feel a flare up starting so I took a weeks holiday to just chill at home. Unfortunately the flare up still happened and I’m having to work from home quite a bit, but if you have a few days reserved for flare ups, it might avoid taking time off sick. It’s horrible using up holiday time to be unwell, but it can be a helpful tool!
Plan your nights out carefully.
For me, I can’t do standing for hours, I’m limited with food choices, very very rarely drink alcohol and I struggle in really noisy places. I still want to go out and have fun, but these days I plan things a little more carefully. Bars rather than restaurants, earlier rather than later, meals at restaurants I know offer food I can actually eat and a love of theatre and cinema trips. It’s all in the planning.
Get travel insurance.
I have had more than one travel regret when I have ended up too unwell to travel and more than once I’ve just had to let the money go and try not to get upset about it. It’s horrible when that happens, because you’re missing out on the amazing experience and essentially loosing money. I now pay the little extra to insure tickets and get travel insurance even in the UK so that if I have to cancel I’ll at least get some compensation.
Consider a holistic approach. Ok, so for me I’m always going to feel that prescription medication is more effective that anything else.
But, there are things that can help ease symptoms.
I’m a big fan of yoga, take fish oils for my joints and cherry juice to help me sleep, I love lavender oil to help me relax and have recently bought a tens machine and at some point I will get round to trying acupuncture. Using these to help ease pain or just boost your mood and not expecting miracle results could help you in two ways – they work or they at least make you feel as though you have a level of control over your own wellbeing.
I would love to know if you have any top tips for coping with flare ups, pain or just general life!