When you have a chronic illness, your body puts you through a series of pain or discomfort, that often feels like betrayal. In my case, with Crohn’s Disease, I was couch-ridden for 2 solid weeks after being hospitalized (which for many people in my situation is short!) After I was able to get up and move around, I was still weak, in pain, and dealing with a failing body at every turn.
It wasn’t until I started to feel like myself again that I realized how many small things we take for granted in our daily lives.
Here are the top things I used to take for granted:
1. Standing up straight
Every day, when you get out of bed, you do this simple action. You place your feet at the side of the bed, and rise to an upright posture without even thinking that it may not be possible. It’s just a fundamental, instinctual thing that we, as humans, do. We walk upright. That’s what makes us human.
When I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s, the pain in my abdomen was so great, that I had to remain hunched over at all times. I hunch-walked myself to the bathroom, and back to the couch. Or out of the car and into the building. I couldn’t lengthen my back and straighten up. As someone who prides themselves on good posture… this was really hard for me both physically and mentally. My back muscles were tense and sore from holding myself in an awkward position.
Now, as I’m on the mend and really feeling like myself again, I can stand up straight. And I make it a point to really feel the power of that position every day. I have a sit/stand desk at work, and I spend most of my day standing because, well… I can.
2. Walking the dog… or just… walking
One of my biggest pet peeves in life is getting behind a slow walker with no way to circumvent them. Funny enough, I ended up being one of those people for a little while, when I couldn’t stand up straight due to the pain in my abdomen.
Due to the hunched-over state that I was living my life in, and the constant waves of abdominal pain that would strike every few minutes like rolling contractions, walking was extremely laborious. The first day I could walk my dog, Murray, around the block, we took it really slow. I had to stop multiple times and breathe through the pain, but I was determined to make it all the way around. And we did it. Again and again, until I felt better, we walked that block. Then we moved a little further, and further, and further.
On good days, when I feel energized and have little-to-no pain, I not only stroll slowly…I walk. hard. Murray and I keep pace with each other, only stopping when he has to pee or decides its imperative he smells this particular bush. We cruise, and it feels so so good.
3. Sleeping on my stomach
I know all of you amazing women who’ve been pregnant understand this struggle.
I’m an all-over-the-place sleeper. I like to start on my stomach or side and I end up in every position known to man throughout the night. But, when the only place having severe pain is your stomach, that’s the last thing you can do. Yet somehow, it’s the only thing you want to do. And you’ll try. Over and over, just to see if maybe it will feel ok. It won’t.
Now that I can sleep however I want, I always roll to my stomach in the mornings just to get that wonderful feeling of being able to do what I want.
4. Being hungry
There was a time that lasted about a year (if not more,) where I didn’t actually have the classic pangs of hunger.
I would get “hangry” where if I didn’t eat something for a long time, my mood would swing wildly and I would turn into some version of myself that may as well have been possessed by a demon. But even in those moments, I wasn’t feeling “hungry.” My stomach didn’t growl. Sometimes I had serious food aversions where all I could stomach was white rice- which, if you know me and my love of food was so so so sad.
The first time I felt my stomach growl in response to being hungry and not just my intestines making insane noises, I shot up from my seat, and proudly announced, “I AM STARVING.” I promptly stuffed my face and smiled knowing that I satiated a feeling that had almost become foreign to me.
5. Staying up late
Being in a constant state of pain or discomfort means that you are completely wiped by the end of the day. Your body is spending all of its energy focused on the internal war that’s being waged, and so by the time the day has ended, you pass out on the couch before a “normal” bed time.
Thrown into the mix with my Crohn’s symptoms, I ended up having iron deficiency anemia, which resulted in me being even more exhausted. I remember driving home from work one day, stuck in traffic, feeling like the only thing I wanted to do was close my eyes just for a second. As soon as I got home that day, I posted up on the couch and fell asleep. I am NOT a napper. Never have been. But in those times, I would cat-nap just because there was nothing else I could do!
The other night, we went to see a friend’s band play at a local bar. They didn’t even take the stage until 10, and the whole time we were there, I was so pleased with myself that I wasn’t checking the time or wondering what time we needed to make it home. I felt great! I felt awake! We were up until about 2am, which isn’t something I’ve been able to do in months.
6. Yoga class
Yoga comes in many shapes and forms. Some classes, my favorite, are powerful and strengthening. Some are slow and restorative. At my worst, it didn’t matter what type… I wasn’t doing it. I would leave the house in the morning with every intention to make it to a class after work, but by the end of the day would feel so tired or weak, that I’d have to skip over and over.
Now, I’m in my 200 RYT teacher training, and I’ve been at yoga every day. Different styles, different lengths, good days and bad days. But every day I’m on the mat, I remind myself how grateful I am to be there in that moment.
7. Stretching upward
At home, in yoga, wherever, we have opportunities to stretch our bodies out and loosen up. For a long time, any small back bend would illicit cramping and pain in my abdomen.
I remember the first time I did a “cow pose” once I was back in yoga. You start in a table top position with hands and knees on the floor, and drop your belly while raising your head to the sky. It’s typically a stretch to help warm up the spine, but on that day, it was an intense and wonderfully needed abdominal stretch. It felt so good to be able to comfortable stretch out the muscles that had been so tense for so many months.
Being sick takes a lot of things away from you.
But as you start to heal, and start to regain some semblance of yourself, you can start to see the things that you took for granted before. Simple, daily things that you never think twice about become monumental tasks that you want to accomplish.
My advice to all of you- chronic illness or not…
Take a look at your day-to-day. Take a look at the things you do by routine. Take every small action and be thankful for it. Know that you are strong and powerful because you CAN do these things. And do them with intention. Take that walk. Play with your kids. Go laugh with friends. Say yes, do the things, and live your life to the fullest.