Staying level headed with debilitating pain.
Those of you that already follow my story know I’m no stranger to surgery. I’ve had my 3rd brain stent surgery for IIH (Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension ) on 15th November. I was aiming to get downstairs on Saturday and I made it. It’s so important to have goals to keep you motivated. I had a family day yesterday too!
But I’m going to be spending this week in bed again recovering, as expected. My pain levels are high today and I had a bad night’s sleep, but I don’t regret it. Days with family are what keep you going . My condition is extremely debilitating but I’m not seeking sympathy; I share my experiences to raise awareness!
Please note: if you have questions about IIH, any chronic illness or mental health concerns; please speak to a trained health professional. These tips are about self care and any advice I share is based on my own experiences.
I shared this selfie on social media, 10 days after surgery. It was youngest’s 13th birthday and I was in bed, fed up that I couldn’t celebrate. The response to this post has been amazing. I received lots of supportive messages and my husband, Joel, was asked at work how I stay sane and positive when I’m stuck in bed for weeks – struggling to get to my en-suite bathroom at times.
So here’s my guide to staying sane as a chronic and invisible illness warrior!
- Don’t fight the pain! I used to be determined not to give in to the pain and I’d push myself to do too much too soon, making my recovery take longer. Now, I try to listen to my body and have retrained my brain to know that it’s okay to rest, This has taken years of making mistakes, until being taught to recognise and change patterns in my behaviour by my coach, Josie (details below).
- Ask friends and family to tell you when you’re looking tired. It’s easy to miss signs that you’re flagging, but don’t shy away from asking those close to you to say if you look like you need to rest. If someone tells me I look rough I’m not offended, I just realise that I do hurt a lot and may need that pain relief!
- Remember your condition doesn’t only affect you. A delicate ecosystem occurs for most familes when someone has a chronic illlness. This means any change has an effect on family life. If you’re the one in constant pain, then your contribution to family life is probably limited. For example, I usually do online grocery shopping and am usually the mediator. Plan for those times when you can’t make your usual contribution. Try asking a friend to pop to the shops or do some jobs around the house, so your partner doesn’t have to do everything!
- Give yourself time to recover. I always seem to forget how tough living with daily high level pain is or how hard recovery from surgery is. So I tend to think I’ll cope better than I actually can. Now I set myself goals and break these down into smaller steps. E.g restarting your physio or getting dressed before venturing downstairs. Whatever goals/steps you take need to be all about you! This is the time to practice self care! Maybe keep a pain diary or notes after surgery, so you can look back at what has worked for you in the past,
- Be honest about having visitors. Let’s be honest, the novelty of surgery soon wears off and friends might get bored with your chronic illness. You’ll probably stop getting as many flowers and cards, but hopefully your friends will still support you as much as ever. For me, receiving a text cheers me up, but having visitors (when you can) is vital! You’ll get a mental boost and it breaks up the bedroom boredom. But, if you’re in too much pain; be brave and postpone. True friends will understand and if they don’t, then you don’t need them!
- Keep a gratitude journal. I spend time every day reflecting on what I’m thankful for. I write 3 positive things in my diary every night or the following morning, This can be anything and it’s the little things that count when you’re recovering from surgery or a bad flare. Washing my hair, managing to eat a proper meal, having a snuggle with Joel or a giggle with my boys mean so much to me in that acute pain phase. I’d suggest starting getting into this routine before surgery. It’s also really nice to share these with friends or family!
- Meditate. I can’t explain how much meditation helps keeps me calm in hospital and in the following weeks. I download my favourite meditations (in case there’s no WiFi) on my phone and take my headphones to block out the horrible noises on a ward. They also help me sleep between hourly obs through the night! I also use techniques I’ve learnt to visualise my happy place to lie still during a procedure or anaesthetic. You can read my tips for meditation here.
- Use affirmations to visualise positivity. Ok, so I know the word meditation may have scared you off, but stay with me! Using affirmations has been the key to staying sane through 3 brain and spine surgeries this year! I also use affirmations cards from TheYesMum (@theyesmummum on Instagram) daily.
My coach Josie, from Worry Freedom created personalised affirmations to help manage my worries, which are mainly about how surgery impacts my family. She turned each concern into a positive affirmation, such as ‘I am proud that my boys have built resilience’. I record these as voice memos on my phone and listen to them before, during and after my stay in hospital. They’ve helped me to stop worrying about everyone else and concentrate on my one job – healing.
- Ask family to spend time with you in your bedroom. When you’re always in bed, it can get very lonely. So, whether it’s snuggling with Joel watching TV, having a chat about the day or watching a film with everyone on the bed; having my family come to me is so important. For example, we ate youngest’s birthday meal in my bedroom, so that I could still be a part of his special day.
- Entertainment. I’ve always been against TVs in bedrooms (personal choice), but after my first surgery Joel set one up in my bedroom so I could watch my favourite comfort movies. It’s stayed! I rely on my iPad so when we realised this was going to be our new normal, Joel set up Apple TV so I have lots of choice. I’ve also have audible and Spotify so I can listen to gentle music or spoken word on the days when I can’t open my eyes.
- Bonus Tip – When you’re doing better, but still stuck in bed or the house I think you need a hobby. Many chronic illness warriors craft and this helped me not to feel so lost when I’d been diagnosed. I’d taken silversmithing classes before falling ill, so I began making beaded and up-cycled creations. Now I run my own online business with an Etsy shop. I’m closed whilst I recover, but I’ll be posting more about this as I prepare for reopening. You can see what I make on my social media pages too. ⬇️
So these are my top 10 tips for managing to stay positive, or at least rational when can’t do anything. But hey, we’re all different and these are just what works for me, If you’ve got the money to invest in working with a coach, do it! It’s all about finding solutions and a good coach can change your outlook! I had counselling after diagnosis, when I was still grieving for the life I’d had. If you’re struggling please talk to your GP/Doctor straight away!
Are you recovering from major surgery? Do you have a chronic illnesses? I’d love to hear about what you’ve tried if you’re housebound or bed-bound. What tips do you have to keep rational and level-headed?