Chronic Illness Self-Care Kit: Top Tools & Resources
Today we get to talk about luggage.
Not gorgeous steamer trunks and vintage hat boxes (although I love those too), but the tools you need to pack to help you through your emotional journey.
Believe me, this is the good kind of baggage.
When you go travelling you pack what you will need, so we are not about to venture into our Forest of Emotions ill-equipped.
Why am I doing this again?
We are going to gather tools which help us manage our emotions and things that we can hold onto, should we get lost in the emotional forest, or hit by a grief-storm, for example.
Emotions can be processed, this isn’t neat, clinical or tidy, but when you feel you are being torn apart by say, anger or guilt, burying or breaking under it are not our only two options.
There are times when you are overwhelmed by feelings and just have no idea what to do but stare at the wall and writhe in emotional pain, so you just shove the struggles down into some box in your mind.
(Of course, they pop up later, usually at a difficult time when your life has broken apart and this has the nasty side effect of breaking down all those walls and hide holes in your head so all your unresolved issues come out to play. Which explains why you end up crying two days after a new diagnosis about the time you failed the exam and the boy who called you ugly in school – they are linked, sort of.)
Or have you had days when you’ve looked at the bottle, (or the TV, or the box of cakes) just to escape from your own head and the pain rattling around never-endingly inside it? You are not alone.
But there are better ways and that’s what we are talking about today.
But I’m not repressing or contemplating tequila shots right now
Yes, and so now is the time to pack.
We have emergency hospital bags, packed with books, spare clothes, meds, toothbrush, cash, vegan food, pens and paper and so on.
Because when an emergency happens, that is not the time to be dashing about the house trying to find cash to get a taxi to the hospital or throwing clothes around shouting ‘I know the good nightgown is here somewhere’.
The time to get things sorted is now, before an emergency. You don’t want to be in hospital in a nightie two sizes two small with a torn strap at the shoulder now do you? (I know, it’s the worst thing a good girl could imagine).
Your handy dandy self-care kit packing check-list:
Pick what you are drawn to from here, and don’t be afraid to explore something new…. these options are just the beginning.
* Journaling – in journalling you take a book, a pad, a dictaphone and pour your emotions into it. You don’t have to chronicle your life, just write what comes, keep the pencil moving and if you get stuck write like you are writing a letter to a friend. I recommend this journalling course and check out my interview with the course founder, Esme Wang here.
* Relaxation – this has many forms and The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook has most of them.
* Meditations – again a huge topic but life changing. If you want to begin with a guided meditation, check out my meditation Wellness Provocateur Vlog here.
* Energy work – everything from Reiki to energy clearing comes under this, but learning to be able to give yourself an energy treatment can be marvellously beneficial in so many situations. Begin by looking at your options and contacting the professional body like the UK Reiki Federation.
* Grounding yourself – going outside can sometimes shift things amazingly. Make a practice of spending time outdoors, can you go for a walk or wheelchair ride, volunteer to walk a dog at a local sanctuary or grow a garden?
* Art therapy – can express your emotions, store them, process them and invite deep healing.
* Support groups – solidarity can help us feel like we fit in and are not alone. Find people who fit you and learn and grow together.
* Aromatherapy – using essences of flowers and herbs, aromatherapy is a very powerful way to effect change on our emotions and all of our healing selves.
* Counselling or coaching – if you’ve read this blog for a while, you will know I’m a big proponent of therapy. I’m so grateful there are people out there whose whole job it is to help me. People say they don’t go to therapy because of the money… I have seen therapists in two countries and six counties. Sometimes they were free and sometimes they were for reduced rates but when we needed help we always found a way. Call around, ask about subsidised counselling, get on the waiting list at your local MIND, call clinics and ask if there are any students working at reduced rates, enquire about sliding scales, offer barter. We can make it work.
* Gratitude list – a gratitude practice can be revolutionary and shift your whole way of thinking. Begin with writing down three things every day you are grateful for. I bet that by the third month you are filling pages with gratitudes and feeling happier too.
* A physical self-care kit – Healing Boxes CIC grew from here. It’s a box, a little like the emotional support box below, that you store your tools in. If you want us to build you a box to take on your healing journey Healing Boxes CIC can do just that, so click here.
* Exercise – everything from dancing, tai chi, running and swimming goes here. Why not explore your options and pick something new, there are exercises available for all. For example, if you are bed bound, Feldenkrais might be perfect for you.
* EFT – have you tried emotional freedom technique? Why not give it a go and see if it works for you?
* Mindfulness – I recommend Breathworks CIC for all your mindfulness study. You can find their classes here.
You need a repository
Exhale, I said a repository not a suppository, (I’m here all week, folks).
Anyway… how do we pack these tools?
(Well, firstly it would be helpful if you actually had an emergency bag as I’ve described above, a go-bag is a good idea.)
But the tools we are talking about today are listed below, and you pack them in two ways:
1. Create an Emotional Support Bag/Box – look at the list above and pick 5 or 6 things that you feel drawn to, and that you think would help you in an emergency and then get them set up now. So if you think aromatherapy would help you to relax when you are anxious, then read a book on it, see an aromatherapist, buy some oils and a way to use them – a burner, a diluted rub, and put it all in a physical box you can go to when your emotions overwhelm you. Your guided meditations and art therapy tools go in there too. And the contact details of support group helplines, your therapist’s phone number. You’ve got the first stage of your tool-kit packed, let’s celebrate you!
If you want to begin with a guided meditation, check out my meditation Wellness Provocateur Vlog here.
2. Choose Your Emotional Repository – decide on a day to day repository. One way we prevent emotions welling up into huge storms that sweep us off the path of our healing journey is by dealing with them in little bits daily. You need somewhere to put all the niggles and struggles that come up for you daily so they don’t overwhelm you. It could be a journal, a meditation practice, a pact to email your best friend every day. Whatever it is, pick a medium in which you can process and contain your emotions and then, darling-one, use it! It can be easy, that pain, that disappointment, that person who annoyed you, it doesn’t have to stay with you, dragging around your ankles as you try and go about your day. Just open up your journal and pour it all inside. You process as you re-tell and then you can move on.
Building a practice
So you’ve picked the tools you want to use to support you on the emotional forest journey, not we need to learn how to use them.
Believe me, practice is your secret weapon for survival.
We can’t be going out of our minds with grief and then grab a yoga mat for the first time and expect the asanas to calm us. It just doesn’t work like that. Practice is what makes these tools work.
On the bad days, it’s practice we rely on. So get into the pose for qi gong or take your yoga mat or your dancing shoes and do your thing. It’s our practice that carries us forward when things are bleak.
Learning to fall
In judo we learn to fall well. Ukemi is the art of meeting the mat. Learn it now and it becomes muscle memory, when life pushes you, you’ll tuck your head and slam the ground on the way down, breaking the impact.
Let’s learn to do this in our emotional lives.
* Is something to lean on during bad days,
* Is something familiar and comforting when everything seems lost,
* Is something that your body and mind associate with relaxation and good emotions,
* Is something accessible that you can take anywhere with you.
(I’ve done yoga in hospital waiting rooms, in car parks, on street pavements, parks, train stations, during a blackout and in other people’s kitchens.)
And then all hell broke loose
Some things go beyond all we know and all we ever anticipated. Crises rip us out of everything and we can no longer bring ourselves to swallow food. To do sitting meditation is as far away as walking to the moon.
In these places we are shattered and the more we hang onto the past pieces the harder it is.
But here is the secret. Through our practice we have become malleable, we have built strength, developed a strong core and our soul cannot be lost even though our world is shattered.
We come out of it, allow ourselves to emerge a new person.
When we fall, we fall into space we have created, support around us, there is a place in which to heal should we need it.
Phoenix fire fighting
Sometimes a challenge comes into our life and it seems to eat us alive.
I always compare diagnosis to a phoenix fire because it burns away all we know but we have the opportunity to allow it to burn away all we don’t want and to use the pain to emerge a new self, more burnished and beautiful than ever before.
I believe in you (but you don’t have to)
Before you begin, know that moving forward doesn’t necessarily require you to have confidence in yourself.
Right now, I only need you to believe in me, know that I am here, I have been down my own emotional path and come out the other side.
I am writing this with intention and compassion, hoping that it helps you. I am waiting here, hands outstretched, believing in you, hoping for you, holding your dreams tight for you, until you are ready to live them again.
Call to action
Make a decision to pack your tool bag.
Pick one option, now. Don’t wait to do it properly – one day – because you may never get there. Let loose the intuition and pick the option that stands out to you from the list above. Then take one step towards it today.
Share your pick and the step you are taking with us in the Wellness Trailblazers’ Cafe.
What’s in your toolkit? Let me know in the comments.
P.S You may also like How to Navigate the Emotional Tangles of Serious Illness (with Free E-Guide) and Solutions and Support for Emotional Struggles with Chronic Illness.