My Autoimmune Flare Survival Guide

My Dear “Kindred Spirit,”

“One step forward and two steps back, nobody gets too far like that. One step forward and two steps back, this kind of dance can never last…” (You’ve heard that song before, right?)

So I’m kinda in the middle of a UC flare right now. (Scratch the “kinda.” I just put that in there because I hate having to admit the horrid painful truth. Oh, and if you’re reading this and wondering what the heck I’m talking about this time, you might want to refer back to this post and subsequent follow ups in the health category.)

I’m tempted to just make this post a big long list of chronic illness posters and memes, but I’ll refrain. (Yeah, I’ve been having a little too much fun on Pinterest these past few days…)

Instead, I want to talk a little bit about how to survive life when you have a chronic illness and are in the middle of a flare.

I’ve been dealing with UC for over 3 years now, and during that time have had several flares of varying degrees of severity, lasting anywhere from 1 to 6 or 7 months.

So I do have some experience dealing with and surviving flares. That’s definitely not to say that I have all the answers (if I did I wouldn’t be dealing with this right now!). So please take everything I say with a grain of salt. At the end of the day, you’re the only person that can figure out what gets YOU through the pain.

But here’s some things I try to do to help myself, and hopefully some of these ideas will help you as well.

1. Scratch the to-do list.

Yes. I know it’s hard. You reach a point where sickness is such a normal part of your life that you don’t want to let it effect your day-to-day activities, and you just keep on a truckin’. Don’t. Stop trying to get everything done. You won’t, and that’s ok. That to-do list (or blog post that’s taken you 3 days to write…) is really not that important in the long run. (Dang I hate having to take my own advice!)

2. Let yourself be sick.

Kinda in line with the first item here: it’s ok to be sick! I often tend to feel as though I shouldn’t be sick. That it’s not right or valid for me to act sick, because I’ve already been sick so much. Crazy as this sounds, it often feels as though I should only have a certain amount of days during my life where I’m allowed to be sick. And once that allotment is filled up, I should stop letting sickness effect me! Since I’ve been really sick in the past, I should get over it and not be sick anymore. It interfered with my life before, it shouldn’t this time. (Haha. I know. I wish.)

You know what? It’s still valid this time. Even if you’ve been sick for years and years. Even if this is yet one more episode in a long list of pain and illness. What you’re going through now is no less valid simply because you’ve been through it so many times before. Pain is no less real just because it’s been experienced before. Let yourself be sick. Let it still be real this time. It does effect your life whether you want it to or not. Whether you think it should or not. Stop fighting that reality. It’s ok to admit that this still hurts and still effects you and still interferes with your life.

3. Find a few go to foods.

Ok. Lets get down to some nuts and bolts stuff here. Enough philosophical ramblings about the psychological and emotional debris that comes with chronic illness.

So you’re sick. And you probably don’t feel much like eating. Or you do, but you know the pain of hunger is going to be easier to deal with then the pain that will come from introducing food to your body, so you’re not eating much. Or at all. (I had one meal Sunday. And it wasn’t much of a meal either).

I’m not against fasting. There are health benefits to fasting. But the tendency I notice with myself is that I will unintentionally fast, or I’ll fast out of laziness, or just to avoid the pain my body puts me in after I eat. So I will not eat… and not eat… and not eat… and then be so damn hungry that I go eat something I shouldn’t, or go eat too much at once.

So unless you are intentionally fasting for health reasons, I find it helpful to have a few go-to foods that you feel somewhat comfortable eating and that don’t take a lot of work to prepare.

Whether or not these go to foods are actually good for you doesn’t matter quite so much in my book. The middle of a flare is not the time to be reconsidering your approach to food. It will only exhaust, overwhelm and depress you even more (I speak from experience). The middle of a flare is a time to take care of and extend lots of grace to yourself.

So if white bread toast is what seems safe and comfortable to you, eat that. (And then once you’re feeling better come talk to me because there are some things I really need to explain to you about food.) But for now, in the short term, eat what feels safe to you, and eat regularly. As in, more than once a day or so. You will get less pain and cramps if you eat a few small meals a day than if you wait until you’re starving and gorge yourself (again, I speak from experience).

Some foods to consider are cooked vegetables, simply cooked meats (not deep fried, breaded, etc), Soup (soup is the best. See if you can guilt a family member or friend into making you some yummy homemade soup with a nice, rich, real broth), eggs, bananas, applesauce, and, depending on your comfort level with dairy during a flare, yogurt (I’ve been drinking raw milk as one of my go-to foods, but I know for many the very thought of dairy during a flare is enough to send their gut into spasms).

Try to keep some probiotics in your diet (yogurt, sauerkraut or sauerkraut juice, kombucha, kefir, etc), but don’t sweat it if there’s a few days where it just doesn’t happen. Again – show yourself some mercy and grace!

4. Focus on the good.

No need to roll your eyes at me. I know it feels like there’s not much good to focus on. Right now it seems like your entire life is just gonna consist of pain, pain, and more pain. But no matter what condition you’re in, there are good things to focus on, and victories to rejoice over.

It’s very easy to get hung up on what we aren’t accomplishing. The to-do list got scrapped several paragraphs ago, but still, all we can think about are the things we’re not accomplishing. It sounds silly, but we’re mourning that to-do list. All the things we were gonna get done, but they just aren’t happening!

Stop it. Just stop it, and look at the things you are getting done.

I got dressed this morning. And I made my bed (The Ant will be so happy to hear that…). Yesterday I colored 5 posters with my new coloring pencils (Yeah, I decided to subtract 20 years from my age yesterday. Totally went all 4 year old on myself.) I’ve got soup in the crockpot this morning.

So I’m gonna try to focus on that and stop thinking about the long list of people who are expecting mail of some form from me. The oil change that still needs to be done (that I still need to do- yikes!) on my car. The copious amounts of Christmas music I need to start planning and practicing for the next few months at church.

And I’ll just think: I got dressed today. I am still functioning enough to do what I need to do. I can still drink a glass of water without immediately feeling as though I’m being burned alive from the inside out. I can still sleep lying down (and on my side! yay!). Things are not as bad as they could be! They’re not even as bad as they have been in the past. There is good to be thankful for and focus on, even in the midst of this!

So what is it for you? Were you well enough to go to work today? Great! Or was your biggest accomplishment of the day running a comb through your hair or taking a shower? Maybe your big achievement was taking a few bites of food, or talking on the phone for a few minutes with a loved one. Whatever it was, celebrate that! Celebrate the small things. The good things. The fact that you’re a human and are still living and breathing and fighting.

Sorry, I’m going all philosophical again, aren’t I?

5. Be careful with the “what triggered it this time?” game.

I’m not saying don’t play at all. It can be very helpful to know what is triggering a flare, so you can avoid that in the future.

I was talking to my brother the other day about my flare and what I was trying to do about it and what may have triggered it and he said “you know it’s stress. You always blame it on food, but it’s never food. It’s stress.”

He’s absolutely right.

Food is a very important way I work on healing my gut, but it’s rarely what triggers flares for me. Stress is what does that.

The “what caused this?” game can be very helpful for recognizing factors (such as stress) that are involved, but you have to be careful to use that in a forward-thinking way. Apply that knowledge to the future, don’t use it to beat yourself up over the past, or to blame yourself for “causing” your flare. You didn’t cause your flare. Many different factors all put together caused your flare, and you really don’t have a whole lot of control over a lot of those factors.

So the main thing I’m trying to say here is: take care of yourself! Extend a lot of grace to yourself during this time. Don’t beat yourself up over the situation you’re in. Have some mercy on yourself – you’re already going through enough without having to listen to condemnation from anyone (yourself included!).

And if all else fails, there’s always this:

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(My new favorite. Dang I love Pinterest!)

Feel better soon.

Love, N.

P.S. I nearly started this post with: “My Dear Gut. What the Hell?!?”

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