We've all been there. Whether it's the process of uncertainty when trying to find the correct diagnosis, our ever-growing list of strange and debilitating symptoms, a new treatment adventure (which often means we have to endure a period of "worse" before we get to the elusive "better"), or any number of other things that come to the surface with this illness -- we've all felt completely overwhelmed at some point (or many points) in our journey with Lyme & Co. I don't usually make such sweeping generalizations, but I'm making an exception because I feel confident this is an accurate assumption.
And it makes perfect sense. When your world is turned upside-down with illness and you're given a diagnosis that requires you do hours upon hours upon days upon weeks upon months (you get the point) of research just to be able to understand exactly what is going on in your body, how could anyone expect to not be overwhelmed? And the scouring for information that you do when first diagnosed doesn't stop once you understand what you need to know about Lyme itself, because I've yet to encounter someone with Lyme who doesn't also have one or more other tick-borne diseases or other chronic illnesses, either as a result of Lyme or that have been exacerbated by Lyme (hence the "Co" in Lyme & Co). This illness presents us with so many "opportunities" to feel completely overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, frantic, on-edge, or just plain exhausted.
This is why it's important to make sure that we have our own little coping arsenal -- a list of ways to de-stress, decompress, and calm our minds that can easily be accessed in times of need. So, I thought I'd share some of my go-to coping strategies with you in hopes that maybe they can help you, too, or at least inspire you to create your own coping arsenal.
Becca's Coping Arsenal: Lyme & Co Edition
Now, this may not seem remarkably profound, but music is seriously one of my favorite ways to unwind. And the cool thing about music is that it can be highly personalized for any situation. I've found a sense of peace in listening to everything from the Carpenters to Eminem, contemporary Christian praise music to EDM, 90s pop to Broadway soundtracks, and the eclectic list goes on and on. Websites and apps like Pandora and Spotify are excellent choices if you want to stream a particular artist or other artists similar to one you like. I'm also a huge fan of Songza, because even if you don't have a particular artist in mind, Songza gives you the option to select a playlist tailored to a specific emotion, activity, time of day, genre, decade, and more. The idea is to find the music platform and style that works for you in any given situation and keep it on file so you can use it when the need arises.
2.) Animal cuddles
Again, not very profound, but very necessary for someone who has and/or enjoys our furry friends. I personally am a dog person, but I truly think that spending time with whatever animal you prefer is of the utmost therapeutic importance. Hug your pets (let's be real, sometimes we like them better than our human family anyway), brush their coats, scratch their heads, talk to them in a "baby voice" (you've all done it, don't deny it), tell them all about how you're feeling. In many ways, our furkids can be our best therapists and they don't judge us on how well we communicate, how we look, or anything else. All they care about is that we love them and show that love by spending time with them. Except the two cats we have...the only thing they care about is planning world domination.
No matter what life throws at you, it is so much easier to get through your days when you're able to laugh! Read a funny book, article, or comic strip. Watch a movie starring your favorite comedian. Do a google search for websites that have lists of jokes or puns. Log onto YouTube and dive into the bottomless pit of internet hilarity. Listen to podcasts of standup comedy. Or...possibly the best ever...learn to laugh at yourself! Seriously, life is a lot easier when you can laugh at yourself and the things you do, even if they're a result of brain fog or another Lyme & Co related issue -- when you accept that sometimes the things we do are just downright hilarious (even though they're also frustrating), this illness becomes a lot more tolerable!
Another thing I've done throughout basically my entire life, but it does seem to take on a whole new level of importance when I'm overwhelmed or stressed. And it always helps. The cool thing is, yes, you could write about how overwhelmed you feel and get emotional release in that way, but you can also write about something completely unrelated or nonsensical just to let your mind escape into something fun and non-illness-related for a while. We all have imaginations, even if we think we've lost them, so tap into that imagination and I guarantee you'll have a good time! And in today's day and age, if you can't physically write (due to pain or other reasons), there's a good chance you have a phone that can record voice memos, a computer, or some other device (tape players, anyone?) that can record whatever you say, which is just another form of journaling.
5.) Art Journaling
Same concept as above as far as putting things onto paper, although this would be considerably more difficult to try with the audio recording method. Basically, you're journaling, but through art. This doesn't mean you have to draw masterpieces in your journal, but if that's your thing, go for it! Nothing is off limits -- you can fill up an entire page with scribbles to get out anger, you can write the same word over and over again in different styles, I even have a friend who once filled up a page in her art journal with those little stickers you find on bananas because they often have cute/inspirational quips on them. The goal is to have fun with it and while doing so, allowing yourself to release those overwhelming feelings that invade your mind.
6.) Netflix/Hulu/TV/Online Shows
Most people I talk to nowadays have Netflix in at least the streaming form, but if you're not a Netflix person there are other options for watching TV shows/movies throughout the times you're either alone or just desperately need something to do that doesn't require much physical effort. This is often the first go-to coping strategy for many of us (myself included), simply because of the lack of required physical or mental exertion, and there's nothing wrong with that -- especially when you're dealing with an illness like Lyme & Co which frequently makes you unable to leave the house. Don't get in the trap of feeling like you're "lazy" because you needed to take a day and just watch an entire season of a silly show. Sometimes that type of distraction is exactly what we need to get outside our minds, involve ourselves in a different world, and temporarily have our minds not be focused on our illness or current situation.
7.) Recite comforting verses or mantras/affirmations aloud
Warning: if you've not done this before, you will feel kind of silly at first, but I promise it helps. For instance, when I'm sad/overwhelmed/scared/hurting or any other emotion, I dive into the file cabinet of bible verses or hymn/worship lyrics I've stored in my brain throughout my entire life and find one that is particularly comforting for whatever situation I'm facing. One of my favorite things to recite aloud is Psalm 23 (something my mom actually taught me to do when I'm in a situation where I need comfort), but there are many other verses and lyrics I turn to when I need them. When my memory isn't reliable (which we all know is common with Lyme & Co), I just say the name of Jesus out loud, over and over, and it calms my spirit and I'm filled with peace. If you don't think saying the bible verses aloud would be comforting for you, personally, then there are endless affirmations/mantras you can say to help calm your mind. A couple examples would be things like, "This illness does not define me, but my strength and courage to keep fighting does," or, "Giving up is not optional."
8.) Make grateful lists
This one's pretty self-explanatory, but I'll elaborate a bit. No matter how hard things get, each and every one of us always has something (usually more than one something) to be grateful for. Sometimes it takes a while to find these things, but I promise you they're always there. Take time each day (or whenever you start to feel stressed/anxious/overwhelmed) to just make a list of the things you have to be grateful for that day. Even if it starts as just one item, write that same item every day until you're able to recognize a second, and a third...you're list will come together much quicker than you may expect.
When we feel stressed, anxiety-ridden, or overwhelmed, reaching out to others is often the last thing we want to do. Which is why it's one of the things we need to do the most. More specifically, make an effort to connect with people who you know are able to make you smile or at least who you enjoy talking to. Chances are, if you're connecting with someone you like (significant other, friends, family, etc.), your mood will be lifted even if your conversation has nothing to do with you needing to be cheered up. Talk about sports, church, the article you read on BuzzFeed, what so-and-so wore to that awards show on TV -- no matter what type of connecting you do, if it's with someone whose company you enjoy (in person, on the phone, or online), you'll most likely feel better afterwards.
10.) Cry it out
Yes, you read it right. Sometimes giving ourselves permission to cry is the best way to feel our emotions and let the overwhelming stress pass through us and be released. I'm not saying it's a good idea to spend every day crying for hours, but letting yourself cry shows that you're not trying to bottle up your emotions, which is excellent because holding all your emotions inside never results in anything good. So let those tears flow, and then when you're all cried out, refer to one of the much-more-fun strategies above, or come up with your own fun, stress-relieving activity. Note: Crying it out is particularly effective when done in conjunction with animal cuddles.