The chronic illness resources in this post are about everyday little things that support healing the nervous system and patterns in our physiology that affect symptoms. Without much effort and without us ever quite realizing it.
Making time for them is not a frivolous act but one of self love, self compassion and self care.
Chronic illness resources are things that soften my heart. For me, it is an experience that feels gentle. Or kind. Nonjudging. It is a moment that gives me even one iota more capacity to keep going. To feel a little less anxious. To have a little more connection to myself when I’m feeling particularly blue. Or gray. Or irritable.
We have moved since I first wrote this post in 2014 to a place just 15 minutes away. We downsized from a house to a condo and now have a lovely, completely manageable small yard. I have befriended the new creek and path that I visit here every day, just as I describe below from where I used to live. The resources I introduce here when I first started my blog still feel so good. And so relevant.
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Resources have likely been inadequate for those of us who have a chronic illness. They’ve been outnumbered by the more challenging events in our lives.
But chronic illness resources exist in all kinds of forms. Even now. And while my own illness is chronic fatigue (ME/CFS), these kinds of chronic illness resources are helpful regardless of the chronic health condition you may have.
For some people, experiencing more comfort and ease when living with a disabling symptom or chronic disease comes from friends and family, who can be a tremendous source of support. For others it is a beloved pet, such as physician Rachel Naomi Remen who has inflammatory bowel disease, for whom her cat was a best friend. For others of us with chronic illness and other health conditions, it may be something even less complicated, that needs no care. No conversation. That may not even need to be fed or watered.
A resource could be a movie or TV show that breaks through those negative internal conversations (the “I can’ts”, “I’m a failure since I can’t get better,” “it’s my fault that I’m sick”… “I’m alone in the world” and their siblings and cousins that can come unbidden). I personally love romantic comedies where the main character moves successfully through big challenge in life, such as Working Girl, Everafter and While You Were Sleeping. I’v also loved How to Train Your Dragon and Family Man. I have watched some of these movies over and over again, sometimes once a year, sometimes every few years, and I love knowing that it’s all going to turn out okay in the end. Most recently I’ve been drawn to Arrival and how the main character followed her instincts even when it meant going against the rules – and how that belief in herself helped change her life – and the world – for the better. Irreverence, acting out and trusting yourself even if it goes against what others think can be a balm to the recovering people-pleaser in me. I’ve also been inspired to keep making my own little contributions to the world every time I watch Spotlight. These are all resources for me.
Books that strike the right cord can really help me feel an itty bit better too, some days. As did the tender evolution of the relationship in The Art of Hearing Heart Beats. Or learning about epigenetics and realizing that my symptoms arise not because of negative thinking but from life events that have affected my genes in ways that can potentially be reversed. A recent book that gave me hope was Wish You Happy Forever, by Jenny Bowen who founded Half the Sky, an organization helping China change how they take care of their orphaned children. Their efforts are making a remarkable difference in healing unrecognized early trauma and are now poised to influence hundreds of thousands of kids.
For me, nature is ultimately one of my biggest resources. I can watch it from my living room or my bed, from the chair on the patio, or on a walk. It’s available in all sorts of forms and details and sizes.
Chronic Illness Resources
Resources for those of us living with chronic health conditions are an important part of our journeys. They help balance out the difficulties. And they are part of the pathway to healing. These often involve small joys. Little things that lift my spirits, even a smidge. Simple things that might lift yours, too. This concept supports the idea of indulging in the things that make your heart sing, or make you guffaw, or put a twinkle in your eye.
Because anything that resources us also helps to break and change the patterns that drive our symptoms.
We are designed for resiliency in the face of trauma when there are enough resources – whether that is time, or space, or people or connections. And it’s never too late.
Patterns can change. It may take time and a series of approaches, but making the space for things that are uplifting is a way of changing the way we live with, react to, and feed patterns that may be contributing to our symptoms.
A resource isn”t a fix, necessarily. It’s not quick – although sometimes reading just the right sentence in a book has been enough to completely shift my mood and my physiological state.
But a resource is a support. And sometimes we need to have permission and encouragement to make the time for these things that might seem wasteful, or inefficient; impractical or unproductive. There is a place, and a need, for support in our lives.
Chronic illness resources are things that make you smile. And laugh. Or that break you open and make you cry from appreciation or joy or the tenderness of open-hearted vulnerability.
For me, they include things that warm my heart and make me want to wiggle my toes in pleasure. Or that quiet my soul and help me feel more settled or at peace. More calm. More okay, even if it’s just for a moment.
At times, imagining and picturing the stream in my neighbourhood feeds a place inside of me and leaves me feeling satisfied, rather than craving more. This is a good indication that something is resourcing.
Another one of the qualities of a resource is that sometimes I want to share it with others, precisely because when something opens our hearts, it enables us to connect. With ourselves. And with others.
The Little Stream
I’ve been wanting to introduce you to the Little Stream since I first started thinking I was ready to start my blog. I started paying more attention to it in February.
It’s taken me over a decade to begin to really notice this stream, even though I’ve walked by it every day for years.
We had a flood here in Boulder in September 2013 and the huge upheaval and sense of threat as I watched the little stream rise and approach its banks grabbed my attention. This is often what unexpected and potentially traumatic events do – they bring things into sharp focus.
For about a week I watched as the stream got swollen beyond anything I had ever thought possible. David and I worried about whether our home would be safe (it was) and how it would affect our friends, our neighbors and our community. Many came away unscathed physically, but it was devastating for many in our area, some of whom lost everything. The emotional toll was felt by all of us.
I took pictures of the stream from a bridge on the path during the flood. I watched as it began to recede within days after the rain stopped. The stream recovered and slowly healed. There is new terrain. There are new groupings of branches on the banks and in the stream.
But the stream has adjusted.
It has healed, just as we are all designed to do.
I started noticing the stream on my walks after that. At first, I just wanted to see it recover.
With time, I began to notice the beauty and a sweetness I’d never paid attention to before.
I began to develop a relationship with it, and as we tend to do when we begin to feel a connection to something, I gave it a name. Pretty simple, just “Little Stream.” But it feels affectionate.
I found a place to sit. Pulled up a log from some debris on the side and made it my own. I started stopping by regularly. I began to notice the little things that change every day – the warblers migrating through, dipping in it for baths. Only there for one day. No wonder I’d never seen them before.
There was also a mallard pair that I managed to see going up or down the stream almost every day this spring. I’d seen a pair occasionally in previous years.
I even gave them names as I began to look forward to seeing them every day. The male reminded me of one of my uncles as he proudly surveyed his territory, zipping down the steam one day when the water was high and fast. I started thinking of him as “M” for my uncle, who died 9 years ago but remains in our hearts and minds.
The female seemed independent and he often did more watching before joining her in feeding below the surface. I think of her as a Sarah.
Watching with curiosity, I noticed that they ate plants on the sides of the stream and in the shallow bottom. On looking more closely, I learned that their meals left beautiful little red roots exposed where the moss had been removed for their dinners.
Each of these little discoveries has become a part of the resource that this Little Stream has unexpectedly offered me. As the relationship has developed, the little things have become part of our “conversation.” I step off the path and peak my head over even on days where I don’t sit there. I track the water levels. I wonder that it must have rained in the mountains or that it’s been warm and there is extra melt happening on days when the water levels are higher.
I now sit on my log for a minute, or 10, or more almost every day. I listen to the burbling as it flows by my little spot. There is a tiny 6-inch drop over an old wooden branch and I’ve come to call this Little Falls.
The scenery from Little Falls has evolved since winter. The photo below was taken May 3rd.
The first leaves and grasses were vibrant and undaunted throughout the slow gentle spring this year. I took the photo below from the same spot on my log at Little Falls on May 19th.
And now, in July, the lush greenery hides me and makes my little seat a private spot that is no longer visible to those who pass by on the paths around me. The bridge is no longer visible either.
Sitting on my log, listening to the murmuring as the water flows over Little Falls, soothes me.
Even as I write this post and feel the pull this morning of the wish that some things were different, describing it brings a sense of comfort.
Some days, sitting there helps me to slow down.
As it did when I sat at “the birthing tree” about 20 yards upstream from Little Falls to tape my video introduction to this blog in May.
On other days, it is more like a friend that keeps me company. As I wrestle with anxiety. Or feel particularly tired. Or have a head full of creative ideas and feel too overwhelmed or excited to stop for long.
Sitting there reminds me of how neutral Nature can be. Things are just what they are.
Neither good nor bad.
Big events come. Big changes happen. Big events go.
And Nature adapts.
The Little Stream just keeps going. And its companions on the stream banks accompany it along the way.
Even the broken cattail regrows.
And comes back with two stems rather than one.
I want to find my inner abilities to adapt too.
To come back stronger, greener, more vibrant than before.
And sometimes to be able to look at my life and simply know that it just is what it is.
Neither good nor bad.
With self-compassion and avoidance of judgement. Remember that I, too, am just a part of Nature.
Doing what I can with what I have, and burbling down my path. Not good. Not bad.
Just on my journey doing the best I can.
And sometimes, particularly after sitting at Little Falls for 5 or 10 or 20 minutes, I feel appreciation.
For what I do have. For having enough health to take walks. Enough time to sit at the stream. A camera and creativity to play with on days when I have the energy. A neighborhood with Little Stream in it. An appreciation for the relationships in my life. For the fact that I have much less fear than I used to, even as the symptoms persist and continue to fluctuate (I’m doing much better in 2018 and continuing to improve a little more every year).
Some days, I feel gratitude for things just as they are, with Little Falls, dapples of sunlight, and burbling Little Streams going along their way.
These are the kinds of precious gifts that a resource can provide.
What is a resource for you? How do you find and spend time with things that soften your heart or put a gleam in your eyes? What does this resource evoke in you, however small it may be – is it an iota of comfort? of joy? a hint of pleasure? or the ability to rest?
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If you liked this post you may also like my other posts about resources.